Archbishop Kurtz submits resignation to Pope Francis

By and staff reports

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville submitted his resignation to Pope Francis on Aug. 18, which is standard in the Catholic Church when a bishop turns 75.

Archbishop Kurtz turned 75 on Aug. 18, and Cecelia Price, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said the resignation is protocol in the Code of Canon Law within the Roman Catholic Church, Louisville news outlet reported.

“That’s actually part of the deal when you become a bishop,” Archbishop Kurtz told reporter Dakota Sherek of “You know that when you reach 75, as long as your health allows you to continue to serve, that you would submit it.”

In the past, bishops had to retire at 75, but Pope Francis changed that rule in 2018. Now, bishops tender a resignation, but the pope can decide whether it is accepted. Or, as Archbishop Kurtz put it, decide when is the best time to act on it, which he said is usually within a year.

“A diocesan bishop … is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provisions after he has examined all of the circumstances,” Ms. Price said in a statement.

Archbishop Kurtz will retain the title of archbishop even after leaving the archdiocese, according to Ms. Price. It is customary for an archbishop to stay “until a successor is appointed by the Holy Father,” she said.

Any possible replacement appointed by Pope Francis could take months.

After a replacement is appointed, Archbishop Kurtz plans to continue serving as an archbishop emeritus. He also will work closely with his replacement to ensure a smooth transition.

“I want to be as much of service to the next archbishop as Archbishop Kelly was to me 14 years ago. And he was a good model,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “So I had a good model to emulate, and I hope to be able to do that also.”

Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, OP, served as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Louisville from 1982 until his retirement in 2007. He died in December 2011 at the age of 80.

The Archdiocese of Louisville province includes the dioceses of Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Owensboro, Ky., Lexington, Ky., and Covington, Ky.

Archbishop Kurtz served as the second bishop of Knoxville from 1999-2007 before being elevated to archbishop. He was succeeded in East Tennessee by Bishop Richard F. Stika.

“Archbishop Kurtz faithfully led our diocese during an important time in its early development. We were barely a decade old when he came here. There were fewer than 46,000 Catholics and just 39 parishes here in 2008. Archbishop Kurtz strengthened the foundation of our diocese, and I will always be grateful to him for that. We now have more than 70,000 Catholics and more than 50 parish churches,” Bishop Stika said.

“We have a new cathedral. We wouldn’t have been able to do this had it not been for the early work of Archbishop Kurtz and the leadership he provided. I wish him much luck and many prayers as he begins to step away from active ministry and leadership,” Bishop Stika added.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz is joined by fellow bishops during a Mass. At left of Archbishop Kurtz is Cardinal Justin Rigali, and behind Archbishop Kurtz is Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. (ETC Archive photo)

Born on Aug. 18, 1946, in Mahanoy City, Pa., Archbishop Kurtz was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Allentown on March 18, 1972. He served there for 27 years before becoming the Bishop of Knoxville in 1999.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Kurtz as the fourth archbishop and ninth bishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville on June 12, 2007. He was installed as archbishop on Aug. 15, 2007.

Archbishop Kurtz was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2010 to 2013 by his peers and then served as president of the governing organization of the Catholic Church in the United States from 2013 to 2016.

Archbishop Kurtz has been reflecting on his time as archbishop since submitting his resignation.

“I hope that I’ve empowered and inspired leaders to take on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ in serving others,” he said.

As far as the future of the Catholic Church, he hopes to see celebration of the good, addressing the challenges it faces straight on, and a continued effort to serve people accurately in the modern world.

“We do it by listening,” he said. “We do it by our interaction with others, and, of course, we do it by being true to the truths of our faith. We don’t change our teachings every day, but we do look at the way in which they’re being heard and lived and how we can foster a fuller life of Christ in our Church,” he said.

Archbishop Kurtz was diagnosed with prostate and bladder cancer in 2019 and underwent several rounds of treatment at Duke Cancer Center in North Carolina. He has been in remission since January 2020.

Though he said he’s feeling healthy and gets CAT scans every six months, Archbishop Kurtz believes his recent medical history could cause Pope Francis to select a new archbishop sooner rather than later.

“I don’t know whether it will be weeks or will it be months, but I’m going to get up every day and do my best to serve well and kind of hold my excitement until we hear who the new archbishop will be,” Archbishop Kurtz said in the report.

The Archdiocese of Louisville was founded as the Diocese of Bardstown in 1808, transferred to Louisville in 1841, and elevated to archdiocese in 1937. It is the oldest Roman Catholic Archdiocese west of the Appalachians. The Archdiocese covers 24 counties with more than 200,000 Catholics.

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