Saturday, November 11, 2023

Bishop Strickland Removed by Pope Francis

As expected, Pope Francis has fired the Bishop of the Tyler Diocese, Bishop Joseph Strickland. The news still brought shock to the Catholic social media sphere. Many voiced their celebration and mockery at the situation while many more voiced concern for the bishop and the state of the Catholic Church with a few vowing to leave the Church for the Orthodox or sede vacantist offshoots from Archbishop Lefebvre. 

 Bishop Strickland has won the admiration of many Catholics who see him as an orthodox champion of the faith. His posts often consisted of devotional-themed content and content pertaining to Christ and the faith. However, he has often posted criticism of others in the Church in particular Pope Francis whom he accused of "undermining the Deposit of Faith." The Deposit of Faith is the collection of the teachings of the Catholic religion or what every Catholic must accept and believe. Bishop Strickland tweeted this using his now-defunct @BishopofTyler account back in the Spring of 2023:
The tweet brought many reactions, especially from those who consider themselves "leftist Catholics" and who often subscribe to an obedience to Pope Francis that is almost indistinguishable from Montanism at times. They literally defend,d every word of the pope and seem to think every statement becomes dogma. They accused Bishop Tyler of heresy and defiance. Calls for his resignation immediately followed calling him schismatic and disloyal to the pope. Almost immediately after the post on X (formerly known as Twitter), the Vatican ordered a visitation. A visitation is when the Vatican sends bishops to investigate. After the visitation, the information is sent back to Rome and reviewed. They then send it to the pope to decide what happens next. 

The visitation led Pope Francis to ask Bishop Strickland to resign. According to reports and a statement, Bishop Strickland refused to resign leading Pope Francis to force him out. Cardinal Dinard of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston issued this statement: 

Cardinal DiNardo's Public Statement on Bishop Joseph Strickland 
NOVEMBER 11, 2023 
Daniel Cardinal DiNardo 

In June of this year, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, directed that an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Tyler should be conducted. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden and Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas of Tucson were appointed to conduct the Visitation. The Prelates conducted an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler by its Ordinary, Bishop Joseph Strickland. As a result of the Visitation, the recommendation was made to the Holy Father that the continuation in office of Bishop Strickland was not feasible. 

After months of careful consideration by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Holy Father, the decision was reached that the resignation of Bishop Strickland should be requested. Having been presented with that request on November 9, 2023, Bishop Strickland declined to resign from office. Thereafter, on November 11, 2023, the Holy Father removed Bishop Strickland from the Office of Bishop of Tyler. Pending more permanent arrangements for the Diocese of Tyler, the Holy Father has, at the same time, appointed Bishop Joe Vasquez, Bishop of Austin, as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Tyler. Let us keep Bishop Strickland, the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Tyler, and Bishop Vasquez in our prayers. 

 Here are some of the reactions on X: As you can see, there are many points of view on this. This is dividing Catholics in a way that has not been seen recently with many calling this the last straw. What are we to make of this new current event in the Catholic Church? 

The situation with Bishop Strickland is concerning for a variety of reasons. Granted, he did make a jab at Pope Francis in a Twitter post. However, this current pope has made it a priority to be merciful and preach mercy. He has also made it a priority to "listen" as we saw with the Synod on Synodality. Yet, he removes a bishop for simply exercising his American First Amendment rights. Where is the mercy? Where is the act of listening? In Scripture, we read how Paul resisted Peter to his face (see: Galatians 2:11). 

In fact, bishops are supposed to assist the pope in running the Church. This often involves disagreements and voicing of countering views or opinions. Moreover, the office of the cardinalate was created specifically for this. How can a prelate engage in this without fearing being reprimanded or removed? Pope Francis is presenting bad optics here. There is no demonstration of mercy or the act of listening. It is either my way or the highway, so to speak. This should be of great concern to Catholics. This is not a left vs right or conservative vs progressive issue. It is about consistency and integrity. There are clergy out there who have done great evils, yet are still active. One even placed his semen in a chalice. Does it get any worse than this other than abuse of children? 

We all need to be concerned. This should be the last straw indeed. There also seems to be a veil over some Catholics who will defend any action by Pope Francis. We at Sacerdotus pledge obedience and prayers to Pope Francis, but we will criticize any statements or acts that may conflict with the faith and good optics. This does not mean we are rebelling against him or wishing to form a mutiny. We concede that Bishop Strickland did not always use his platform wisely. Some comments should have been presented to Pope Francis privately and not posted on social media. 

However, those comments do not warrant removal when compared to other clerics who have done greater evil and committed crimes, yet are promoted or allowed to work in ministry. This is a serious thing we need to take into account. If Pope Francis truly wants to convey the idea of mercy, of "meeting you where you are at," of "obtaining the smell of sheep," and of listening to the people in the spirit of synodality, then he has to do better. Let us pray for all parties involved and for stability in the Catholic Church. We are a laughingstock in the world now. 

UPDATE: November 11, 2023 
Bishop Strickland has given his first public interview since his removal on LifeSite:

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