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Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville

Coordinates: 35°58′22″N 83°56′32″W / 35.97278°N 83.94222°W / 35.97278; -83.94222
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Diocese of Knoxville

Dioecesis Knoxvillensis
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral
Coat of arms
Country United States
TerritoryEast Tennessee
Ecclesiastical provinceLouisville
Area14,242 sq mi (36,890 km2)
- Total
- Catholics
(as of 2011)
70,000 (2.8%)
Sui iuris churchLatin Church
RiteRoman Rite
EstablishedMay 27, 1988 (36 years ago)
CathedralCathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Patron saintNativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary[1]
Current leadership
Bishop-electJames Mark Beckman
Metropolitan ArchbishopShelton Fabre
Vicar GeneralDavid A. Boettner
Bishops emeritusRichard Stika

The Diocese of Knoxville (Latin: Dioecesis Knoxvillensis) is a Latin Church ecclesiastical territory, or diocese, of the Catholic Church in eastern Tennessee in the United States. It was founded on May 27, 1988, from the eastern counties of what was then the Diocese of Nashville. The diocese is a suffragan diocese in the ecclesiastical province of the metropolitan Archdiocese of Louisville.

The Mother Church is the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville. The two oldest churches are Saints Peter and Paul Basilica Parish of Chattanooga and Church of the Immaculate Conception Parish of Knoxville, both founded in 1852.

The diocese is one of the fastest growing dioceses in the entire United States, along with the neighbor diocese of Nashville, thanks mainly to high conversion ratings and immigration from Catholic countries. [2]


The Diocese of Knoxville covers most of East Tennessee In addition to the see city of Knoxville, the diocese includes Chattanooga and Johnson City.

As of 2020, there were an estimated 70,000 Catholics within the diocese, which covers approximately 14,000 square miles (36,000 km2).[3] The diocese makes up about 2.8% percent of East Tennessee's total population.

The diocese is currently home to 50 parishes and one mission. These parishes are served by 65 diocesan priests, 15 religious priests, 8 extern priests, 77 deacons, 9 brothers, and 45 sisters.[3] Eleven Religious Institutes are represented in the diocese.[4]

With the influx of large numbers of Hispanic Catholics looking for work, the diocese faces many new challenges. If the estimates are correct and there are about 50,000 new Hispanic immigrants in the area, their number nearly doubles the area's current official Catholic population. The clergy and laity of the diocese are working to welcome these new neighbors.[5][failed verification]

Perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is available at many of the parishes and Masses are celebrated in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, American Sign Language, Polish, and Latin.[citation needed]


1808 to 1988[edit]

In 1808, Pope Pius VII erected the Diocese of Bardstown, a huge diocese in the American South and Midwest. The new state of Tennessee was part of this diocese. Pope Gregory XVI erected the Diocese of Nashville on July 28, 1837, taking all of Tennessee from the Diocese of Bardstown. The Knoxville area would remain part of the Diocese of Nashville for the next 166 years.[5]

Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan served as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Chattanooga from 1872 to 1878. He died from yellow fever in 1878 at age 33.[6] Ryan is described by an eyewitness as "going from house to house in the worst-infected section of the city to find what he could do for the sick and needy."[6] In 2016, the Diocese of Knoxville began a cause of canonization of Patrick Ryan.[7][8] In 2021, his remains were transferred from Mount Olivet Cemetery to Saints Peter and Paul Basilica.[9]

1988 to 2009[edit]

Immaculate Conception Church – Knoxville
Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul –Chattanooga

Pope John Paul II erected the Diocese of Knoxville in 1988, taking its territory from the Diocese of Nashville.[10] Because of his role in the creation of the diocese, Nashville's Bishop James Niedergeses, was known as the "Grandfather of the Diocese of Knoxville".[11]

The pope named Reverend Anthony O'Connell of the Diocese of Jefferson City as the first bishop of Knoxville. In 1998, John Paul II appointed O'Connell as bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach.[12][13] The next bishop of Knoxville was Monsignor Joseph Kurtz of the Diocese of Allentown, selected by John Paul II in 1999. Pope Benedict XVI named Kurtz as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville in 2007.

2009 to present[edit]

The third bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville was Richard Stika from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, named by Benedict XVI in 2009.

In September 2014, Stika initiated fundraising to construct a new cathedral in Knoxville.[14] Stika dedicated dedicated the new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 3, 2018.[15]

In 2016, the diocese began a cause of canonization of Father Patrick Ryan, who served in Chattanooga in 1870s.[7][8] In 2021, his remains were transferred from Mount Olivet Cemetery to Saints Peter and Paul Basilica.[9]

Public masses were suspended In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, Stika issued a decree for the resumption of public Masses with protocols to reduce spread of the virus, including directives which prohibit the reception of communion on the tongue.[16]

In April 2021, an official from the Congregation for Bishops in Rome stated that it had received ten accusations against Stika under Vos estis lux mundi, a motu proprio or document issued by Pope Francis. The accusations allege administrative misconduct in how Stika impeded or restricted an investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct by a diocesan seminarian. The official stated it was likely that the Congregation would authorize Archbishop Kurtz to investigate the accusations.[17]

In May 2021, a group of diocesan priests and employees alleged that Stika had taken funds from diocesan education and employee benefit funds, including loan money from the 2020 Paycheck Protection Program, to help pay for the $36 million cathedral. One anonymous priest said "we are nearly bankrupt... there's just not going to be cash there."[18]

Also in May 2021, eleven diocesan priests, roughly 20 percent of the presbyterate, wrote to the apostolic nuncio for the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, requesting of the Holy See "merciful relief" from Stika's leadership.[19]

Stika's retirement was accepted by Pope Francis in June 2023. Stika said that he had sought early retirement due to health issues and denied claims that the Vatican forced him out.[20] Francis appointed Archbishop Shelton Fabre of Louisville as apostolic administrator for the diocese until the pope named a new bishop.[21]

On May 7, 2024, Pope Francis appointed James Mark Beckman, a native of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and a priest in the Diocese of Nashville, as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville.[22]

Sexual abuse cases[edit]

In April 2010, Bishop Stika revoked the ministerial privileges of Reverend William Casey, assigned to St. Dominic Catholic Church in Kingsport. Warren Tucker had accused Casey of raping and sexually abusing him during the 1970s, starting when he was an 11 year old altar boy. When confronted with these accusations, Casey admitted his crimes to Stika and other diocesan officials.[23] Casey was convicted of first-degree sexual misconduct and aggravated rape in July 2011 of first-degree sexual misconduct and two counts of aggravated rape and sentenced to 30 years in prison.[24][25] The Vatican laicized Casey in 2013.[26]

In January 2020, the diocese settled a lawsuit from Michael Boyd, who claimed that Monsignor Francis Mankeland and Bishop O'Connell sexually abused him as a child. Boyd claimed that Mankeland abused him multiple times over two and a half years during the 1990s when he was a fourth grader. Boyd said that O'Connell abused him twice. The Vatican had forced O'Connell to resign as bishop of Palm Beach in 2002 due to his admissions of sexual abuse years earlier in Missouri. After Boyd reported his allegations to the diocese in 2018, its investigation determined that they were not credible. The diocese said in 2020 that it agreed to settle due to the financial burden of continuing the lawsuit.[27][28][29][30]

In February 2021, an organist at Sacred Heart Cathedral sued the diocese, alleging that he had been raped at his home in February 2019 by Wojciech Sobczuk, a Polish seminarian. The Jesuit Order had dismissed Sobczuk in 2018 after receiving accusations against him of sexual misconduct at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. That same year, Stika invited Sobczuk to study in Knoxville for the priesthood and live at the bishop's rectory.

Shortly following the alleged rape of the organist, Stika sent Sobczuk to St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana. However, St. Meinad dismissed Sobczuk in February 2021 after receiving multiple new allegations of sexual misconduct.[31] Sobczuk returned to Knoxville to live in the episcopal residence. Diocese officials appointed an outside investigator for the rape case. However, Stika later dismissed him, seemingly for asking questions from diocesan and seminary officials. Stika then hired his own investigator, who only interviewed Sobczuk before closing the investigation.[31][32]

In July 2022, the diocese successfully sought to de-anonymize the Sobczuk victim in court proceedings, going against prior diocesan policy to respect victim privacy. The diocese also attempted to place internal church documents under clergy-penitent privilege and the pontifical secret, going against prior instructions by the Vatican.[33]

In November 2022, a woman sued the diocese, claiming that she had been sexually abused by Gatlinburg priest Reverend Anthony D. Punnackal, a priest of the Congregation of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate serving in the diocese. During a grief counseling session after the death of her husband, Punnackal allegedly fondled her breast and buttocks. After the incident, the woman notified police, who also notified the diocese. Punnackal was indicted in January 2022 on sexual battery by an authority figure.[34][35][36] In November 2023, Punnackal was found not guilty of all criminal charges.[37] In April 2024, however, the civil lawsuit against both Punnackel and the Diocese of Knoxville would be settled out of federal court.[38] The Carmelites of Mary Immaculate would also accept a settlement with the woman, who was listed as "Jane Doe," but was also identified as a Honduran.[39] Though the woman would dismiss the lawsuit and accept the settlements, Punnackel refused to be a part of mediation talks.[39] In contrast to the Diocese of Knoxville and the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, it was not immediately clear if Punnackel would personally go along with the dismissal of the lawsuit.[39] Punnackel declined to settle with the woman at the time the lawsuit was dismissed, with his lawyer arguing that this was justified by the fact that he had already been found not guilty in a criminal trial.[39]

Coat of arms[edit]

Coat of arms of Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville
The coat of arms was designed and adopted when the diocese was erected by Deacon Paul Sullivan.
The arms of the diocese contains a large gold (or) cross with three small red (gules) crosses. The background of the arms is divided into quarters. They contain red and blue (azure) wavy lines, mountains, a dogwood blossom, a river and a railroad trestle.
The gold cross comes from the coat of arms of Pope John Paul II. The three red crosses represent the three Catholic dioceses in Tennessee. The mountains, the dogwood blossom and the river represent the scenery of East Tennessee. The trestle honors the Irish Catholic railroad workers in Tennessee history


Bishops of Knoxville[edit]

  1. Anthony Joseph O'Connell (1988–1998), appointed Bishop of Palm Beach
  2. Joseph Edward Kurtz (1999–2007), appointed Archbishop of Louisville
  3. Richard Stika (2009–2023)
  4. James Mark Beckman (Bishop-elect, 2024)[40]

Other diocesan priest who became bishop[edit]

James Vann Johnston Jr. appointed Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and later Bishop of Kansas City-Saint Joseph


High schools[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About the Diocese of Knoxville".
  2. ^ "The Growing of the Catholic Church in East Tennessee".
  3. ^ a b "About the Diocese of Knoxville". Diocese of Knoxville. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  4. ^ "Diocese of Knoxville History". DioceseofKnoxville.org. 2008. Retrieved May 14, 2008.
  5. ^ a b "Diocese of Knoxville". DioceseofKnoxville.org. 2008. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved May 14, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "Servant of God Patrick Ryan, model of charity". Diocese of Knoxville. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  7. ^ a b Wogan, Jim (August 7, 2016). "Vatican investigating cause for Father Patrick Ryan sainthood". East Tennessee Catholic. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  8. ^ a b Brewer, Bill (October 14, 2020). "Inquiry begins into Fr. Ryan sainthood cause". East Tennessee Catholic. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  9. ^ a b McWilliams, Dan (August 16, 2021). "Father Ryan returns to Sts. Peter and Paul". East Tennessee Catholic. Retrieved February 9, 2023.
  10. ^ "Diocese of Knoxville History". DioceseofKnoxville.org. 2008. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  11. ^ "Diocese of Knoxville History 1987-1999". DioceseofKnoxville.org. 2008. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  12. ^ "Bishop Anthony Joseph O'Connell [Catholic-Hierarchy]". www.catholic-hierarchy.org. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  13. ^ "Diocese of Palm Beach, USA". GCatholic. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  14. ^ McWilliams, Dan (March 5, 2018). "Catholics celebrate nation's newest cathedral, growth of church in South". The Boston Pilot. Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  15. ^ McRary, Amy (May 3, 2018). "Reverence, awe — and humor — open East Tennessee Catholics' $30.8 million cathedral". Knox News. Retrieved April 26, 2021.
  16. ^ "Bishop Stika issues directives for resumption of public Masses". Diocese of Knoxville. May 6, 2020. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  17. ^ "Stika facing likely 'Vos estis' Vatican investigation". www.pillarcatholic.com. April 23, 2021. Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  18. ^ Flynn, J. D. (May 22, 2021). "Bishop Stika wants 'the whole story' ahead of Vatican investigation". www.pillarcatholic.com. Retrieved April 20, 2022.
  19. ^ Doyle, Anne Barrett (May 3, 2022). "Knoxville priests asked nuncio for 'merciful relief' - BishopAccountability.org". Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  20. ^ "Knoxville Bishop Resigns Amid Turmoil". June 27, 2023. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  21. ^ Bishop Stika announces retirement
  22. ^ "Pope Francis Appoints Father James Mark Beckman as Bishop of Knoxville". USCCB. May 7, 2024. Retrieved May 7, 2024.
  23. ^ "Diocese of Knoxville bars priest accused of abuse". www.knoxnews.com. Retrieved April 22, 2022.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Breeding, Kacie. "Former Kingsport priest Casey found guilty of aggravated rape, sexual misconduct". timesnews.net. Retrieved April 22, 2022.
  25. ^ "Former priest William Casey's conviction appeal denied". wbir.com. June 24, 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  26. ^ Booker, Emily (January 28, 2013). "Former priest William Casey laicized". East Tennessee Catholic. Retrieved April 22, 2022.
  27. ^ McRary, Amy. "Diocese of Knoxville settles sexual abuse lawsuit out of court". Knoxville News Sentinel.
  28. ^ "Diocese of Knoxville agrees to settle sexual abuse lawsuit out of court". wbir.com. December 31, 2019.
  29. ^ WTVC, The Associated Press (January 1, 2020). "Diocese of Knoxville settles priest abuse lawsuit". WTVC.
  30. ^ "Tennessee Catholic diocese settles priest abuse lawsuit". Crux. Knoxville, Tennessee. Associated Press. January 2, 2020.
  31. ^ a b Flynn, J. D. "Stika lawsuit: What's next for the Knoxville diocese?". www.pillarcatholic.com. Retrieved April 22, 2022.
  32. ^ Hill, Paige. "Knoxville Catholic Diocese, Bishop Stika accused of rape cover-up in lawsuit". www.wvlt.tv. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  33. ^ Pillar, The. "Knoxville diocese fought to name plaintiff in rape cover-up suit". www.pillarcatholic.com. Retrieved August 18, 2022.
  34. ^ "Alleged victim files second lawsuit against local Catholic priest". wbir.com. November 15, 2022. Retrieved February 13, 2023.
  35. ^ WTVC (April 23, 2022). "Gatlinburg priest, diocese sued after alleged sex assault during grief counseling session". WTVC. Retrieved April 24, 2022.
  36. ^ "Lawsuit: Knoxville diocese mishandled sex abuse claim". Jacksonville Journal-Courier. April 22, 2022. Retrieved April 24, 2022.
  37. ^ Whetstone, Tyler (November 17, 2023). "Jury finds accused Gatlinburg priest not guilty of sexual battery". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  38. ^ McAfee, Hope (April 25, 2024). "Settlement reached in sexual assault lawsuit against Gatlinburg priest". WATE. Retrieved April 26, 2024.
  39. ^ a b c d North, John (April 25, 2024). "Knoxville Diocese, religious group reach mediated settlement with woman who claimed abuse, intimidation". WBIR. Retrieved April 26, 2024.
  40. ^ "Pope Francis Appoints Father James Mark Beckman as Bishop of Knoxville | USCCB". www.usccb.org. Retrieved May 7, 2024.

External links[edit]

35°58′22″N 83°56′32″W / 35.97278°N 83.94222°W / 35.97278; -83.94222