WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has removed Bishop Martin D. Holley of Memphis, Tenn., from the pastoral governance of the diocese and has named as apostolic administrator Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.
Bishop Holley, 63, a former auxiliary bishop of Washington, was installed Oct. 19, 2016, as the fifth bishop of Memphis. He succeeded Bishop J. Terry Steib when he retired.
In a statement Oct. 24, Archibshop Kurtz asked ‘for prayers for Bishop Martin Holley as he departs from this local church and for the entire church of Memphis. Let us pray for one another during this time of transition,”
“I am eager to work with the priests, curia and faithful of the Diocese of Memphis to promote stability, peace and healing until Pope Francis appoints a new bishop. I have admired the church in Memphis for many years, particularly from my time as bishop of Knoxville,” the statement said.
Archbishop Kurtz told Catholic News Service in an email that he arrived in Memphis the morning of Oct. 24.
As of press time, The Diocese of Memphis had not commented as to what led to Pope Francis’ decision to remove Bishop Holley from the pastoral governance of the diocese.
A few months after he was installed as bishop, Bishop Holley came under heavy criticism from clergy and parishioners for his decision to reassign two-thirds of the diocese’s 60 active priests, except for five who were slated for retirement.
“No set policy existed at the time Bishop Holley arrived, on how long a parish assignment would last,” then-diocesan spokesman Vince Higgins said in June.
“The amount of time a priest spends (in an assignment) depends on the location and influence of the parish,” Higgins added. “Associate pastors are moved more frequently, and Bishop Holley has decided to appoint pastors for six-year terms, with a possible renewal of the term for six more years.”
The bishop also was criticized for bringing in a Canadian priest to be his vicar general, Msgr. Clement J. Machado, rather than choosing a vicar general from among the priests of the diocese. Local clergy raised questions about whether proper Church procedures had been followed for Msgr. Machado’s transfer to the diocese. The priest resigned from the post a few weeks later and returned to Canada.
The complaints about Bishop Holley prompted the Vatican — through the nunciature in the U.S. — to assign two U.S. archbishops to make an apostolic visitation this summer to the diocese, Archbishops Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Citing two unnamed sources in the diocese, The Commercial Appeal daily newspaper reported that Archbishops Gregory and Hebda visited the diocese June 18-20 for a fact-finding trip. They reportedly talked to between 40 and 50 clergy and a number of laypeople.
No one from the Memphis Diocese or the prelates’ respective archdioceses would comment on the visitation when Catholic News Service asked for confirmation it had taken place.
Bishop Holley was born in Pensacola, Fla. He attended Theological College in Washington and completed his seminary studies at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1987.