Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Knoxville Bishop Rick Stika

Bishop Stika, 65, was investigated by the Vatican for mismanagement of his diocese.

Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville
Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville (photo: CNA / EWTN)

Editor's Note: This story has been updated.

Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of the embattled Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bishop 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 Bishop 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.

Bishop 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 Bishop Stika for his resignation after reviewing the results of a Vatican investigation.

Since April 2021, The Pillar has reported on Bishop 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.

According to The Pillar, Bishop Stika wrote a letter to the priests of his diocese about his resignation June 27, saying “questions about my leadership ... weighed on me emotionally and physically. For these reasons, I asked the Holy Father for relief from responsibilities as a diocesan bishop.”

“I offer my genuine and heartfelt apology to anyone I have disappointed over the years,” he wrote.

“I have tremendous respect for everyone,” he added, “even my detractors. I will continue to keep all of you, and this diocese, in my prayers.”

Bishop Stika also asked for prayers and told priests he will likely move to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, where he expects 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 Bishop 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 2021, Bishop Stika told The Pillar he removed a retired TVA investigator appointed to look into the sexual assault allegation against Sobczuk because he was “asking all these questions.”

The bishop appointed a different investigator who only interviewed Sobczuk before filing a report, The Pillar said.

The first investigation into Bishop Stika’s administration was conducted in 2021 by the now-retired Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.

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.

Bishop 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.

Bishop 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 Bishop Stika’s leadership.