Pope Francis Removes Bishop Holley as Head of Memphis Diocese

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisvile, Kentucky, was appointed temporary administrator.

(photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Hannah Brockhaus/CNA/EWTN News

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis Wednesday removed Bishop Martin Holley from the pastoral government of the Diocese of Memphis and appointed Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville to oversee the diocese until further notice.

The Vatican said that the Holy Father “has relieved” Bishop Holley “from the pastoral government of the diocese of Memphis” and appointed Archbishop Kurtz temporary apostolic administrator “ad nutum Sanctae Sedis,” meaning “at the disposition of the Holy See.”

The removal follows a Vatican investigation into the Diocese of Memphis in June to address concerns about major changes Bishop Holley, 63, had made. Among these was the reassignment of up to two-thirds of the 60 active priests in the diocese, according to local media reports.

The apostolic visitation, as it is called, was carried out by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. They spent three days “fact-finding” in the diocese, including conducting interviews with Memphis-area clergy and laypeople, according to Memphis newspaper The Commercial Appeal.

The outcome of the apostolic visitation has not been made public.

In a letter to his priests in June, reported on by The Commercial Appeal, Holley said: “Many of you may have read, seen or heard news this week that an apostolic visitation was made to our diocese.”

“We are respectful of the confidentiality of the apostolic nunciature’s process and are thankful that some of you were invited to participate in that process,” he said.

Bishop Holley was born Dec. 31, 1954, in Pensacola, Florida, and ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1987. He was installed as bishop of Memphis Oct. 19, 2016, after serving as auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., for 12 years.

In July, he was one of three Tennessee bishops who issued a letter to the state's governor encouraging him to halt the then-pending execution of Billy Irick, who died by lethal injection Aug. 9.  

The bishops emphasized the value of all human life, even that of those convicted of horrendous crimes, offering themselves a resource to the governor for any questions regarding Catholic teaching on the subject.

While in Washington, Bishop Holley had served on multiple committees for Cultural Diversity, as well as subcommittees for Africa; African-American Catholics; Laity, Women, Children and Youth; and Migration.

He had also been a member of the International Catholic Foundation for the Service of Deaf People and been on a number of committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, including the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Pro-Life Activities; and the Subcommittee for Hispanic Affairs.

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