After two years of upheaval in the tiny diocese in East Tennessee, Bishop Richard F. Stika has resigned. The bishop was sued for his treatment of sexual misconduct charges and faced internal criticism of his leadership.
In addition to priests in the diocese complaining directly to a Vatican delegate about him, they also begged for “merciful relief” from his leadership a year ago. According to the Catholic magazine The Pillar, the turmoil escalated to the point that the Vatican launched an inquiry last year.
In 2022, he was sued for allegedly interfering with a diocesan investigation into a seminary student who had been accused, in 2019, of raping and harassing a church musician. Bishop Stika was accused of defaming and intimidating the musician, as well as firing an investigator hired by the diocese to look into the situation. He claims he has never concealed sexual misconduct.
Another lawsuit alleges that the diocese lied to authorities and improperly hindered their investigation into a woman’s claim that a priest in the diocese sexually abused her in 2022.
Bishop Stika, 65, stated in an interview that he sought retirement because to health concerns alone and strongly refuted widespread criticism of his leadership. He’s had diabetes for decades, had a heart attack, had heart bypass surgery, and went into a diabetic coma, which caused him to lose sight in one eye.
When asked whether he was under investigation by the Vatican, Bishop Stika did not want to reply. He claims he asked the Vatican for retirement permission some months ago and finally got it last week.
He justified his administration of the diocese by pointing to the construction of new churches, the installation of new clergy, and the maintenance of steady finances.
Pope Benedict XVI selected Bishop Stika to lead the minor diocese in 2009.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Pope’s delegate in the United States, was reportedly petitioned by 11 priests of the diocese in 2021 for “merciful relief” from Bishop Stika’s leadership after they accused him of dishonesty, intimidation, and abuse of authority, as reported by The Pillar.
The Tyler, Texas diocese announced earlier this week that the Vatican has also launched an inquiry in that city. The Catholic Church has not commented on the reason for the probe. Apostolic visitations are infrequent official inspections of leadership that might be provoked by a variety of offences, including as doctrinal conflicts and financial mismanagement.
Bishop Joseph Strickland leads the Tyler diocese and is recognised for being a conservative firebrand who is vocally opposed to Pope Francis and who often takes sides in the cultural wars.