Bishop Martin D. Holley has been ousted as head of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Just days after Bishop Martin Holley’s two-year anniversary as head of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis (CDOM), the embattled spiritual leader has been forced into retirement.

Making the move all the more eye-popping is that Holley’s forced retirement came directly from The Vatican – from Pope Francis himself.

From a statement posted on the official website of The Vatican:

“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 Catholic Diocese of Memphis released a lengthier statement:

“Following the apostolic visitation of June 2018 to the Diocese of Memphis and its Bishop, called for by the Holy Father, and after several efforts 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.”

Holley had been tapped to replace Bishop J. Terry Steib, who retired in 2016. Before coming to Memphis, Holley had served as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. since 2004.

But earlier this year, Holley came under criticism for reassigning 60 pastors for unspecified reasons. Those personnel moves reportedly created discontent among parishioners and alienated donors. In January, the diocese announced the closing of 11 schools, citing financial struggles.

A team of bishops reportedly spent three days in Memphis this summer examining the Memphis diocese. The Vatican and the Diocese have released few details about Holley’s tenure or the outcome of the visitation.

But whatever happened on his watch, it was enough to trigger an “apostolic visitation” – one of the most consequential types of investigations in Catholicism.

A glossary at the Vatican’s website defines an apostolic visitation as, “an exceptional initiative of the Holy See which involves sending a Visitor or Visitors to evaluate an ecclesiastical institute such as a seminary, diocese, or religious institute.  Apostolic Visitations are intended to assist the institute in question to improve the way in which it carries out its function in the life of the Church.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the purpose of canonical visitations:

“The principal object of all the visitations shall be to lead men to sound and orthodox doctrine by banishing heresies, to maintain good morals, and to correct such as are evil; by admonition and exhortation to animate the people to religion, peace, and innocence, and to put in vogue whatever else may be dictated by the prudence of the visitors for the benefit of the faithful, as time, place and opportunity shall permit.”

Meanwhile, guidance of the Memphis flock falls to Kurtz, Metropolitan Archbishop of Louisville, who will serve both cities.

“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,” Kurtz said in a statement. “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,” Kurtz continued. “Let us pray for one another during this time of transition.