Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]
June 27, 2023
By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of the embattled Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Stika, 65, was investigated by the Vatican for mismanagement of his diocese. He is also named in a 2022 lawsuit (refiled in 2023) accusing him of protecting a seminarian accused of multiple counts of rape.
The lawsuit also claims Stika attempted to intimidate an alleged victim, a parish organist, into keeping quiet about the alleged sexual assault by Wojciech Sobczuk, and of having accused the alleged victim of being the perpetrator.
Pope Francis named Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisville, Kentucky as the Diocese of Knoxville’s apostolic administrator until a new bishop is appointed.
Stika has denied any wrongdoing.
Catholic news outlet The Pillar reported in May that unnamed sources close to the Dicastery for Bishops said Pope Francis had decided to ask Stika for his resignation after reviewing the results of a Vatican investigation.
Since April 2021, The Pillar has reported on Stika and the accusations of his mishandling of sexual misconduct and assault allegations in the Diocese of Knoxville.
The Pillar has also reported that priests of the diocese had accused Stika of bullying and harassment.
In a diocesan statement announcing his resignation June 27, Stika said he was grateful to Pope Francis for accepting his request to retire.
Stika is described in the statement as “the longest-serving bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville.” He was appointed in 2009.
“I recognize that questions about my leadership have played out publicly in recent months,” Stika said. “I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that some of this has weighed on me physically and emotionally. For these reasons, I asked the Holy Father for relief from responsibilities as a diocesan bishop.”
“People will speculate on why I am doing this. I have been dealing with life-threatening health issues most of my adult life,” Stika said, noting his Type-1 diabetes and vision loss in one eye, a 2009 heart attack, and neuropathy, among other health scares.
“I offer my genuine and heartfelt apology to anyone I have disappointed over the years,” he also said.
“I have tremendous respect for everyone,” Stika added, “even my detractors. I will continue to keep all of you, and this diocese, in my prayers.”
Stika also asked for prayers and said he will likely move near his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where he would like to “remain in active ministry, but at a slower pace.”
The bishop had admitted to having a close relationship with Sobczuk, the former diocesan seminarian accused of sexual assault, and The Pillar reported that Stika gave Sobczuk thousands of dollars in diocesan funds, as well as gifts such as trips, laptops, and car repairs, exceeding the financial support ordinarily given to seminarians.
In November 2022, the Vatican sent two Virginia bishops to carry out an official apostolic visitation in the Diocese of Knoxville, the results of which are unknown.
Stika has also been criticized over debts the diocese incurred in the construction of Knoxville’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and been accused by one priest of misusing internally-designated diocesan funds for ordinary administration, The Pillar reported.
Stika denies the charge of misusing diocesan funds.
According to The Pillar, in 2021, 11 Knoxville priests sent a letter to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, asking for “merciful relief” from Stika’s leadership.
This story has been updated.