Knoxville bishop’s resignation a relief for clergy while experts wonder what took so long

Knoxville News Sentinel [Knoxville TN]

June 27, 2023

By Tyler Whetstone

Around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Rev. Al Humbrecht’s cell phone buzzed with a new text message from a fellow priest in the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville.

“Hallelujah. Hallelujah.”

Catholics all across East Tennessee woke up Tuesday to the news that Bishop Richard Stika had resigned, a seismic shift in church leadership that was beginning to look inevitable the longer Stika hung on. For many diocesan clergy, there is a sense of deliverance.

“There’s a sense of relief and in one sense, a sense of a kind of positive sense. Now we can start getting back to being what we’re supposed to be about, the work of Christ. Instead of the rabbit holes and distractions,” Humbrecht told Knox News.

He hopes the relief will extend to Stika as well, and he acknowledged there is much work to be done.

“Healing starts with the priests. We have been pretty much together through this whole thing, but still the ones who have left there’s some healing that will have to take place there and then for those who have been hurt the ones who felt they had to leave, there will be healing needed,” Humbrecht said.

“And the laypeople who have been involved, who have followed this for over two years, they’ll have to be part of the healing process as well.”

Stika leaves under a cloud of mismanagement accusations, two explosive lawsuits against the diocese that have sullied diocesan leadership and questions about his mentorship of a former seminarian who is accused of raping a church employee who left after the alleged assault.

Knox News collected reactions from experts across the country who have paid close attention as Stika’s saga played out over the last few years.

Patrick Thronson

Attorney for John Doe who sued the diocese claiming Stika interfered with an investigation and worked to discredit him after he alleged a former seminarian raped him.

“We think it’s highly significant and an important step for justice and accountability for our client,” Thronson said. “It’s a first step and more needs to happen. Our client deserves full justice, insurance compensation and an apology for what we allege happened to him. And we think the public deserves more transparency as it relates to investigating allegations and bishop behavior.

“Our client brought and maintained this lawsuit in the face of years of what we allege was severe intimidation and defamation. It took tremendous fortitude for him to do that.”

Thronson said Stika leaving does not impact the lawsuit. It will continue.

Anne Barrett Doyle

Co-director of, an online public library of information about the Roman Catholic clergy abuse crisis.

“Pope Francis should have removed Stika long ago when complaints from his priests began pouring into the Vatican,” she said in an emailed statement to Knox News. “Stika has brazenly violated multiple provisions of the pope’s key accountability law, Vos Estis Lux Mundi. He arrogantly dismissed allegations, prevented investigations, ignored evidence, retaliated against whistleblowers, and vilified victims.

“Pope Francis should now publicly state the reasons for Stika’s removal,” she continued. “The pope’s practice to date has been to stay silent when a guilty bishop is finally forced from office. But this silence is inconsistent with the transparency he has promised. For the sake of the victims harmed by Stika, we urge the pope to publicly condemn Stika’s appalling, repeated abuse of his authority.”

David Clohessy

Former executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Clohessy has sounded the alarm about many bishops who have been removed over the years. He said Stika’s behavior stands out because his decisions to bully and intimidate alleged victims and his general behavior were consistent choices, not one-off instances.

“I guess I would argue it’s worse, Stika’s behavior,” he told Knox News. “Yes, there are no reports that he himself assaulted or molested anyone. But in some ways at the risk of sounding harsh, many of us believe the coverup is more morally egregious.

“His actions are deliberate and self-serving moves that are hurtful to his flock and his priests.”

James Connell

Canon lawyer and priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with a long history of supporting whistleblowers

“Stika’s resignation validates the voices of the whistleblowers and, as a result, truth gains energy in Knoxville and throughout the Catholic Church,” Connell wrote to Knox News in an emailed statement. “After all, without the whole and complete truth there can be no justice, and without justice there will be no healing.

“At the same time, however, I must voice my disappointment that Pope Francis did not proactively remove Bishop Stika from the office of Bishop of Knoxville, rather than allowing Stika the appearance of a graceful resignation. By so doing, Pope Francis has functioned as a collaborator, not as a leader.”

Bob Hoatson

Co-founder of Road to Recovery, a sex abuse survivors advocacy agency in New Jersey

“It is about time that Bishop Richard Stika resigned and relieved the parishioners of the Diocese of Knoxville his autocratic and corrupt practices,” Hoatson said in an email to Knox News. “He was being protected all these years by Cardinal Justin Rigali whose connections in Rome kept Stika in power long after he deserved to be removed.

“Susan Vance, SNAP Coordinator of Tennessee, heroically confronted the injustice of the Knoxville Diocese of years, and she and her fellow colleagues are to be congratulated for their dogged determination to free the Knoxville Diocese from a horrendous tragedy.”

Sara Larson

Executive director of Awake Milwaukee, an organization assisting Catholic abuse survivors

“I am relieved that Bishop Stika has resigned and will no longer be able to harm abuse survivors in the Diocese of Knoxville,” Larson said in an emailed statement to Knox News. “However, it has taken far too long to get to this resolution, which demonstrates continued problems with the Catholic Church’s willingness to hold bishops accountable for their actions in a timely manner.

“In addition, I am disappointed that Stika was allowed to resign, rather than removed from his position by the Vatican and charged with canonical crimes. Without any statement by the Vatican, Stika can still try to control the narrative about his departure without taking real responsibility for his serious abuses of power.”

Tyler Whetstone is a Knox News investigative reporter focused on accountability journalism. Email Twitter @tyler_whetstone.