Bishop Joseph Strickland, who accused Pope Francis of undermining the central teachings of the Catholic Church, has been removed from office following an investigation into how he had governed his diocese.
The Vatican announced that Francis had “relieved” Bishop Strickland from the governance of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas, a move the Pope took after the US bishop refused to offer his resignation.
Bishop Strickland, a prolific social media user, has accused Francis in a tweet of “undermining the deposit of faith” and, more recently, attending a conference where he read a letter from a “dear friend” rejecting the Pope’s legitimacy.
In 2018, hours after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released his dossier of questionable allegations against the Pope and called on him to resign, he issued a statement to his diocese saying they were “credible”. Two years later, he offered a prayer by video to the crowd at the Jericho March, a gathering of those who believed the 2020 US presidential election was stolen from President Donald Trump.
Archbishop Viganò also spoke at the march, with the involvement of the two prelates in the event underlining how opposition to Francis has become increasingly politicised.
At one level, the bishop’s apparent rejection of Francis places him at odds with the Church’s catechism, which states that the Pope is “the visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” and that the “college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head”.
Nevertheless, Bishop Strickland’s resignation was also motivated by the way he governed his diocese. The bishop was appointed to lead the Diocese of Tyler by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 when Archbishop Viganò was ambassador to the United States and played a crucial role in appointments.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the vice-president of the United States Bishops’ Conference, explained in a statement that two US bishops had “conducted an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership” of the Tyler diocese by Bishop Strickland.
Following this inquiry, “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 Pope and the Holy See’s Dicastery for Bishops, it was decided that “the resignation of Bishop Strickland should be requested”.
Bishop Strickland was asked to resign on 9 November but refused, so two days later, he was removed from office. Bishop Joe Vazquez of Austin, Texas, has now been appointed as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Tyler.
One Church source told The Tablet that problems with the bishop’s governance of the diocese were a critical factor in his removal, with some of the problems identified included a breakdown in communion (relationships) with fellow local bishops and with a number of his priests.
Bishop Strickland is 65, a decade short of the episcopal retirement age. He was born in Texas, ordained for the Diocese of Dallas in 1985 and became a priest of the Diocese of Tyler when it was established two years later.