Memphis Bishop Martin Holley is out following orders from Pope Francis in the Vatican. Bishop Holley’s departure comes months after high ranking catholic church officials came to investigate parishioner backlash of reassigned priests, the closure of catholic schools, and dwindling donations.
Staff at the Catholic Diocese of Memphis declined an on-camera interview, and we are told Bishop Holley is out of town. But Bishop Holley’s critics are talking and not holding back on what they believe went wrong with him at the helm, overseeing nearly 50 parishes across West Tennessee.
“It’s sad to be excited about something because we wanted it to work,” says Father John McArthur.
Two years ago, Catholic leaders installed Bishop Martin Holley to lead the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. Afterwards, he said this to Local 24 news. “I’ve come to listen, to learn, to share.”
But Father McArthur says that promise was not kept. He and more than two thirds of Memphis priests were reassigned or demoted in the months after Bishop Holley took over, and that caused divisions and departures.
“It’s just been a trying time for the church, people have left, people are upset, and money is down,” says Father McArthur. “He never invites dialogue, he never welcomes suggestions, he doesn’t take criticism.”
Father McArthur said Bishop Holley also alienated some when he ordered the closure of nearly a dozen Catholic schools, some which served inner city students.
“Bishop Holley came in and said we are not educating non-Catholics, we were all like, “what?” says Father McArthur.
“We’ve lost a fourth of our parishioners at Incarnation,” says parishioner Cathy Hurdle.
Hurdle and hundreds of fellow parishioners wrote letters to Bishop Holley to voice concerns. She, and other priests, said those pleas fell on deaf ears.
“He did not respond to any of our correspondence,” says Hurdle.
“I don’t think he ever liked us, respected us, cared about us, never listened to us, never wanted to know us,” says Father McArthur.
Father McArthur said after continued complaints and drops in donations, Archbishops from Georgia and Minnesota came to Memphis to investigate. The priest said that probe led to Bishop Holley’s removal.
“I felt unburdened, free to be able to say what’s going on, and they responded, and they ultimately saw other things besides what we said, what I said,” said Father McArthur. “It was more than what some people say. Moving a priest, that was just one little iceberg, but there was so much below there that was going on in the diocese.”
Parishioners also posted in support of Bishop Holley on the Catholic Diocese of Memphis’ Facebook page, writing “This is just wrong” and “This is a very sad day.”
“My prayer is this new bishop comes in with a spirit of holiness and embraces us,” says Hurdle. “I’m just praying with Holley leaving that we can re-inspired in spirit, in service.”
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville will oversee the Catholic Diocese of Memphis until further notice. Holley must move out of the chancery by Friday.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Vatican said:
“The Holy Father Francis has removed from the pastoral care of the diocese of Memphis, United States of America, H.E. Msgr. Martin D. Holley, and has appointed as apostolic administrator “sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis” of the same diocese H.E. Msgr. Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville.”
The Memphis Diocese released the following statement Wednesday following the Vatican’s confirmation that Holley had been removed.
Following the apostolic visitation of June 2018 to the Diocese of Memphis and its Bishop, called for by the Holy Father, and after several effort to restore peace and serenity within the same Particular Church, today his Holiness Pope Francis has relieved of his responsibilities as Ordinary the Most Reverend Martin D. Holley. Pope Francis has appointed as Apostolic Administrator His Excellency, the Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, Metropolitan Archbishop of Louisville.
This appointment is effective immediately.
The announcement from the Holy See asks for prayers for the Diocese of Memphis during this time of transition and for Bishop Holley as he departs from Memphis.
In a statement, Archbishop Kurtz said:
“I humbly accept the appointment of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to serve as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Memphis, while remaining Archbishop of Louisville. 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.
I ask 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.”