By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At age 11, Msgr. Clement Machado claims the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him, showing him both heaven and hell and telling him that he would become a Roman Catholic priest.
When that vision came true, at his ordination Mass in Montreal, Msgr. Machado says he was visited by Saint Patrick who told him, “Go and free my people.” Thus began his priestly ministry, with a particular emphasis on intercessory prayer and the spiritual realm.
Soon, Msgr. Machado would go on to become a missionary member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), a trained exorcist, a regular television personality on EWTN – and the vicar general, moderator of the curia, and diocesan chancellor under Bishop Martin Holley for just over a year during Bishop Holley’s controversial two-year tenure in Memphis.
Bishop Holley declined to comment through a spokeswoman at the diocese of Memphis, and Msgr. Machado never responded to e-mail and phone messages left by The Tablet.
Yet, in interviews with The Tablet, clergy, current and former diocesan personnel, and laity of the diocese described an inseparable duo – a duo, critics say, lacking the dynamism or the competence to lead a diocese and push through the sweeping changes they sought, eventually leading to high-profile exits just months apart from which the diocese of Memphis is still seeking to recover.
An Exorcist Turned Administrator
The history of how Bishop Holley and Msgr. Machado first crossed paths is a muddled one, with the common narrative told in Memphis being that they met approximately a decade ago at an exorcism conference.
Nearly a year before his arrival in Memphis, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Office of the General Counsel issued a memo to all U.S. bishops warning them that Msgr. Machado was performing exorcisms without permission in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas.
“The diocese reports that it has received numerous complaints and reports that Fr. Machado is conducting exorcisms without the permission of the local ordinary in contradiction to the norm of canon 1172 of the Code of Canon Law,” states the memo, dated May 24, 2016.
Soon after Bishop Holley’s arrival in Memphis, Bishop Holley incardinated him as a priest of the diocese, despite the customary probation period.
Along with incardination, he vested Msgr. Machado with full control over internal diocesan affairs with multiple priests and chancery officials telling The Tablet that all communications were immediately re-routed through his office.
While these individuals insisted they had no problem with a change in protocol, they were frustrated by the fact that while everything was required to go through Msgr. Machado’s office, nothing seemed to ever come out of it.
“He would never sign off on anything, so there was a constant backlog,” one former chancery official said.
Similar to accounts of Bishop Holley insisting on being called “Your Excellency,” Msgr. Machado demanded that priests refer to him as “Monsignor” – a title he could use by virtue of his office of vicar general, not because he had been named one by the pope.
Another common refrain was that Msgr. Machado was only interested in the ceremony that came with his post, rather than the administrative work itself.
In a memo obtained by The Tablet issued to priests providing instructions for parish visits from the bishop, priests were told to ensure that reserved parking close to the entrance was available for Bishop Holley and Msgr. Machado, that a special welcome should be provided to them, and that they should remember to offer a courtesy stipend.
Meanwhile, chancery officials and priests recalled that Msgr. Machado was the sole voice whom Bishop Holley was interested in consulting on diocesan matters, including the fallout from his decision to move over 70 percent of new priests during his first six months on the job.
Critics of Msgr. Machado maintain that he was reckless with diocesan funds, with some diocesan officials describing monthly expenditures at upwards of $10,000 for food and personal expenses, and, at least in one instance, parking fees of $785.
Based on their shared interest with the spiritual realm, priests told The Tablet that Bishop Holley would become immediately defensive of efforts to offer constructive criticism of Msgr. Machado’s governance and dismiss it as a spiritual attack.
“Everyone is mystified by the trance Msgr. Machado seemed to have over Bishop Holley,” said one former diocesan employee.
“I’ve never seen a more dysfunctional relationship,” said another priest who worked closely with the two.
“You’ve been Machado-ed”
According to both current and former chancery officials, when efforts were made to push back or question Machado, they told The Tablet they were written off by the bishop – to the point where it became a verb.
“You’ve been Machadoed,” became a common phrase used around what one priest called “the Death Star,” – his name for Memphis’s Catholic Center.
Another former diocesan official described a situation where after a series of problematic dealings with Msgr. Machado, the individual decided to write a letter and meet with the bishop.
The individual said not only did the meeting end abruptly, but that soon a letter of apology was presented, having been jointly dictated to another diocesan employee by Msgr. Machado and Holley, with a request for the individual to sign.
“I wish to sincerely apologize to you and Msgr. Clement Machado for the letter I wrote to you on August 28th referring to Msgr. Clement Machado. I wish to categorically, absolutely and unreservedly retract the whole letter including each and every one of its words. I wish to reassure you as well as Msgr. Machado I have great personal and professional esteem as well as regard for the person, reputation, decorum and good name of Msgr. Machado,” read the letter, which was obtained by The Tablet.
After refusing to sign, the employee was dismissed three months later.
Msgr. Machado Returns to Canada
Less than two weeks after Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis arrived in Memphis in June 2018 for a Vatican investigation into Holley’s leadership, Msgr. Machado’s resignation was announced.
The stated reason was returning home to Canada to complete a degree in canon law and to assist his recently widowed mother.
“Please keep (Msgr. Machado) in your prayers, that he may successfully complete his degree in the upcoming academic year, as it will greatly benefit his service to the diocese,” Bishop Holley wrote in a letter dated June 29, 2018.
Bishop Holley’s language left many convinced he would eventually return, and priests and diocesan officials told The Tablet that Msgr. Machado kept a watchful eye on the diocese from Canada, with all requests for Bishop Holley being sent to him first via e-mail.
As pressure mounted – including demands that Bishop Holley no longer consult with Msgr. Machado – multiple priests and diocesan employees told The Tablet that Msgr. Machado had counseled Holley not to worry, “the Blessed Virgin Mary will protect you.”
Three months later, however, Holley, too, would be gone.
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part The Tablet series chronicling the two-year tenure of Bishop Martin Holley in Memphis, Tennessee. Part one may be found here. Part three may be found here.