(LifeSiteNews) – The Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee is about to undergo a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation following multiple complaints from diocesan priests and laypersons about Bishop Rick Stika’s leadership.
Bishops Barry Knestout of Richmond, Virginia and Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia will conduct the visitation, according to a report by The Pillar
The wide-ranging list of allegations leveled against Stika includes impeding an investigation of a diocesan sexual abuse case, exposing high school students to an alleged homosexual predator, the use of intimidation and bullying tactics against priests and laity, financial improprieties, and attempting to implement the abortion-tainted OSHA COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all diocesan employees.
Cover-up of same-sex rape by seminarian
Earlier this year, a lawsuit was launched against Stika and the Knoxville diocese accusing the prelate of scheming to conceal “sexual misconduct and sexual abuse” allegedly perpetrated by former seminarian Wojciech Sobczuk, which “was meant to quiet and subdue complaints of sexual abuse and prevent valid legal filings.”
The organist, who filed under “John Doe” to protect his identity owing to the sensitive nature of the allegations, claims that Sobczuk raped him at his home in 2019 and “sexually harassed” him “on numerous occasions at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, [Tennessee].”
Stika has been accused of turning the accusations of rape against the supposed victim in the case, having allegedly told “numerous individuals” that it was Doe who raped Sobczuk and not the other way around.
The lawsuit claims that Stika’s characterization of Doe as the assailant and Sobczuk as the victim of rape was “defamatory” and “exposed him to wrath, public hatred, contempt, and ridicule, and deprived him of the benefits of public confidence and social interaction.”
The Knoxville bishop raised suspicions when he abruptly fired an outside investigator appointed by the diocesan review board to look into the abuse scandal, replacing him with a new investigator who interviewed Sobczuk but did not speak to other credible witnesses.
Before coming to Knoxville, Sobczuk had been dismissed from a Jesuit novitiate program for sexual misconduct and later was dismissed from Ss. Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan for the same reason.
Catholic high school students chaperoned seminarian accused of sexual misconduct
Despite the dismissals based on sexual misconduct, Sobczuk was allowed to chaperone Knoxville Catholic High School students as they traveled for several days and nights from Knoxville to Washington D.C. to participate in the national March for Life in January 2019.
Sobczuk was also allowed to teach music at Sacred Heart Cathedral School.
In July, a group of concerned lay members of the diocese produced a 175-page record of the scandal including supporting documents. Copies were sent to Louisville Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, Apostolic Delegate to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet. The group also hand-delivered a copy to the chancery for Bishop Stika.
The group’s extensive report can be viewed here
A ‘depressed presbyterate’ under Stika’s leadership
In September 2021, 11 priests of the diocese wrote to Archbishop Pierre, saying that the issues with Sobczuk and Stika were part of a larger pattern of problematic leadership, according to The Pillar.
The letter painted a picture of priests suffering under Stika’s management of the diocese:
Our experience of our appointed bishop varies among us, but the undersigned do share a common awareness that the past twelve years of service under Bishop Stika have been, on the whole, detrimental to priestly fraternity and even to our personal well-being.
While we acknowledge the reality of suffering that comes with bearing our daily crosses, our appointed bishop seems determined to increase that suffering for his own purposes, purposes which seem unrelated to the demands of the Gospel.
“It seems to us that ours is a depressed presbyterate, and has been developing as such for 12 years, due to the leadership of Bishop Stika,” the priests said.
Coercive diocesan COVID-19 vaccine mandate: a tipping point
In January, Stika sought to implement the OSHA COVID-vaccine mandate on all diocesan employees.
Employees were told that they “must be fully vaccinated no later than January 31, 2022 or submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test every seven days from a medical professional and wear a cloth face mask over his/her face and nose while at work.” Those who do not comply “will be subject to discipline up to and including termination.”
Jenny Hay, a member of the Knoxville diocese, said the issue of what amounts to a coercive vaccine mandate is important, since it violates conscience objections to abortion-tainted shots, infringes upon bodily autonomy, and is an affront to the freedom of diocesan employees.
“If I were somehow persuaded tomorrow that this was somehow ethical and safe, I wouldn’t take it now for the threat to freedom,” Hay told LifeSiteNews at the time. In this way, Hay said, the mandate “is a clear violation of Catholic doctrine, because it will have the effect of coercing some diocesan employees to receive a vaccination which they do not want.”
In the end, the diocese relented after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the OSHA vaccine mandate.
“I think this was a tipping point for many conservative Catholics in the diocese,” Hay told LifeSiteNews. “At least it was for me.”
“Prior to that point, I didn’t give much credence to rumors of impropriety. Along with many others, I thought Stika was a pretty good bishop,” she explained. “But when I saw that he was capable of forcing all employees to receive the COVID vaccine … that made me open to finding out the credibility of other accusations.”