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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis has ordered a major investigation into the diocese of Memphis, Tennessee. It comes after the Holy Father was informed of the grave nature of numerous complaints of priests and faithful received by the Secretariat of State.
Sources confirm Abp. Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, Georgia and Abp. Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, appointed by the pope to conduct the inquiry, have already personally met with clergy and lay witnesses on the ground in Memphis.
This investigation is a rarity even among canonical investigations, owing to the fact of two archbishops appointed to look into a small diocese in the South. Gregory is former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and an expert liturgist, and Hebda is a former Vatican canon lawyer possessing a degree in civil law from Columbia University.
Known as an "Apostolic Visitation," this Vatican inquiry is the highest kind of canonical visitation. The Council of Trent consolidated its functions:
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.
The investigation into the diocese of Memphis is said to have been triggered by specific allegations and grave concerns surrounding the person and record of governance of Msgr. Clement J. Machado, Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia and Chancellor, and certain decisions made by Bp. Martin D. Holley, recently appointed by Pope Francis in 2016.
The Vatican and its delegation are also investigating their governance of clergy, their stewardship of the financial assets of the diocese, their administration of personnel, and their compliance with civil and canonical norms.
Holley was widely beloved during his tenure as auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. under Cdl. Donald Wuerl, which makes such a high-level investigation into the bishop's administration of his diocese all the more surprising. Regarding Machado, little is known apart from the fact that he is from Canada.
Since Holley's appointment in Memphis, financial donations from parishioners have plummeted, blamed in large part on disgruntlement over Holley's transfer of more than half of all pastors to different parishes. Earlier this year, owing to "enormous" financial shortfalls suffered since Holley's installation, the diocese announced the closing of 11 of its Catholic schools.
Recent canonical visitations on American shores include those of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri in 2014, leading to the removal of Bp. Robert Finn over his handling of reports of child abuse; the diocese of Cleveland, over Bp. Richard Lennon's decision to close a number of parishes, who has since gone into early retirement over health concerns; the institutes of women religious over concerns of widespread heterodoxy; and U.S. seminaries over claims of priestly malformation, among others.