Bishop Joseph E. Strickland
Letter #152, 2023, Monday, November 13: Bishop Strickland
The embattled Bishop Joseph Strickland, 65, the first native-born Texan to head the Diocese of Tyler, in mostly-Protestant eastern Texas, was relieved of the leadership of his see by Pope Francis on Saturday, November 11, 2023.
Removing a bishop is rare. One might ask what reprehensible thing Bishop Strickland had done, or what gigantic incompetence and mismanagement he had shown, during his tenure as shepherd of his flock.
This question is specially germane in light of the dozens and dozens of bishops around the world who have been accused of moral and financial malfeasance and still occupy their seats in their cathedrals.
The answer appears to be that he has been outspoken in defending the teachings of the Catholic Church, especially in moral matters, and most especially in sexual matters.
In liturgical matters, he has stood up for those wishing to continue to attend what Pope Benedict had termed the “extraordinary rite,” though Pope Francis has seemingly repudiated that terminology as he has sought to restrict and discourage the pre-Vatican II Mass, popularly termed the “Traditional Latin Mass.”
Bishop Strickland said that he was unable to make it difficult for the faithful to attend traditional Masses because “I cannot let part of my flock die of hunger.”
On November 9, two days before he received the news of his ouster, Bishop Strickland was reportedly asked to resign. He refused, believing, as he had said in a September 20 letter to the diocese, “I cannot resign as Bishop of Tyler because that would mean abandoning the flock entrusted to me by Pope Benedict XVI.”
He added, “I have also said that I will respect the authority of Pope Francis if he removes me as Bishop of Tyler.”
That letter had followed an apostolic visitation conducted at the direction of the Vatican by Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden and Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, who made “an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership” of the Texas bishop and recommended that Strickland’s continuation in office was “not feasible,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston said in a statement on November 11.
The Vatican announcement did not provide a reason for the bishop’s removal.
Here is some further background from other news reports:
According to Courtney Mares of CNA (Catholic NewsAgency), “During Strickland’s 10-plus years at the helm of Tyler, the diocese experienced some noteworthy changes, such as the 2018 resignation of three diocesan officials, a move Strickland said at the time would position the diocese to best fulfill its mission.
“But Strickland’s tenure has also coincided with positive signs of spiritual and administrative health in Tyler. Currently, 21 men are in priestly formation for the territory of 119,168 Catholics. The diocese is also reportedly in good financial shape, exemplified in part by its ability to raise 99% of its $2.3 million goal for the 2021 bishop’s appeal six months ahead of schedule.”
According to the more progressive paper National Catholic Reporter, some Catholics in Strickland’s diocese felt the move to oust Strickland was “long overdue.”
A disgruntled female employee of the diocese who had been laid off said, “People have been writing to the nuncio [Vatican ambassador] for years about [Strickland], all related to how he was running his diocese.”
She did not like, she said, the tone and content of his X tweets about the direction of the Church.
A diocesan priest who wished to remain anonymous said that in the apostolic visitation, questions had been asked about finances, outside clergy with irregular status welcomed into the diocese, and the bishop’s understanding of “the deposit of Faith.”
The former editor of the diocesan newspaper accused Strickland of using “strident rhetoric and partisanship” in proposing traditional moral stances, which another priest called “unkind words” and an objectionable “certainty of his own righteousness.”
No more precisely definable episcopal transgressions were mentioned.
Perhaps even more nettling to some, especially in the Vatican, however, Bishop Strickland’s criticism — occasionally rather explicit — of Pope Francis.
The bishop refused to go along with the Pope’s 100% support of Covid vaccines during and after the pandemic, and once questioned the Pope’s “undermining of the ‘deposit of faith.’” He has also criticized the Pope’s emphasis on climate change and seeming down-playing of the widespread embrace of governments of legal abortion of unborn babies, as well as efforts to make the Church more “welcoming” to people who identify themselves under the rubric of “LGBTQ” people.
The coup de grâce might have been, however, Bishop Strickland’s evident disdain for the “synodality” movement in the Church.
In a 2020 interview, he declared, “All this synodality is garbage as far as I’m concerned. It just is not living the truth.”
And in an August 22, 2023 pastoral letter, Bishop Strickland predicted that many of the “basic truths” of the Catholic faith would be challenged during the October 2023 Synod on Synodality in Rome. He warned of an “evil and false message” that he said had “invaded” the Church. He also declared that the synod would reveal “the true schismatics.”
Given Pope Francis’ insistence that synodality is “what God expects of the Church in the third millennium,” these words of Bishop Strickland’s might have been his biggest “sin” of all. —RM
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