In a highly unusual move, Pope Francis has taken the extraordinary step of dismissing Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, a prominent conservative figure in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church who has been an outspoken critic of the Pope’s policies. This rare action comes after Bishop Strickland adamantly refused to resign, despite a Vatican investigation into his tenure.
Typically, when bishops face issues with the Vatican, they are asked to resign, and the Pope usually accepts their resignation. However, in this case, Pope Francis chose to remove Strickland from his position directly, a move considered drastic within the Church. Strickland, who is only 65 years old and ten years away from the typical retirement age for bishops, had been asked to step down on November 9 but staunchly declined to do so.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston confirmed that Strickland’s refusal to resign was the catalyst for his dismissal. Strickland, known for his active presence on social media, had publicly expressed his opposition to Pope Francis’ initiatives, including what he termed the Pope’s “program undermining the Deposit of Faith.” He had been particularly critical of the Pope’s efforts to make the Church more inclusive toward the LGBTQ community and expand the role of laypeople within the Church, as well as his opposition to a recent synod.
While the Vatican’s statement announcing Strickland’s removal did not provide a specific reason, Strickland suggested in an interview with the conservative website LifeSiteNews that his refusal to comply with Vatican directives, particularly those related to the use of the traditional Latin Mass favored by some conservatives, played a significant role in his dismissal. Strickland reiterated his steadfast commitment to his previous actions and expressed his sense of peace in standing by his beliefs.
The decision to dismiss Strickland followed a Vatican investigation earlier in the year that examined the administration of the Tyler diocese, including his management of financial matters. Cardinal DiNardo revealed that the investigation had determined Strickland’s continued leadership was “not feasible.”
Bishop Strickland had emerged as a prominent figure in the ultra-conservative faction of the U.S. Catholic Church, with a national following that extended far beyond the boundaries of the small diocese of Tyler, Texas. Last August, Pope Francis had voiced his concerns about what he characterized as a “reactionary” Catholic Church in the United States, where he believed political ideologies had replaced genuine faith in some instances.
Strickland is well-known for his strong support of former U.S. President Donald Trump and is considered a hero by conservative U.S. Catholic media outlets aligned with the former president. In a notable instance, when the Vatican defrocked ultra-conservative U.S. anti-abortion priest Frank Pavone for “blasphemous” social media posts and disobedience to bishops, Strickland was one of the few American bishops who publicly defended him. At that time, he criticized the Vatican for its actions and accused it of promoting immorality and deviating from the deposit of faith.
In light of Bishop Strickland’s removal, Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, as the interim administrator of the Tyler diocese. This move marks a significant development in the ongoing tensions within the U.S. Roman Catholic Church.