ROME (AP) — Pope Francis On Saturday, he forcibly removed the bishop of Tyler, Texas, a conservative prelate active on social media who has been a fierce critic of the pontiff and who has become a symbol of polarization within the American Catholic hierarchy.
A one-line statement from the Vatican said Francis “relieved” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler’s pastoral governance and appointed the Austin bishop as temporary administrator.
Strickland, 65, has become one of Francis’ leading critics, accusing him in a tweet earlier this year of “undermining the deposit of faith.” He was particularly critical of Francis’ recent meeting on the future of the Catholic Church, during which hot-button issues were discussed, including ways to better accommodate LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Earlier this year, the Vatican sent investigators to investigate his governance of the diocese amid reports that he was making unorthodox doctrinal claims.
The Vatican never released the findings, and Strickland had insisted he would not resign voluntarily, saying in media interviews that he had received a mandate from the late Pope Benedict XVI and could not not abdicate this responsibility. He also complained that he had not been informed about what exactly the pope’s investigators were investigating.
His dismissal sparked an immediate outcry among some conservatives and traditionalists who had touted Strickland as a leading Catholic figure to counter Francis’ progressive reforms. Michael J. Matt, editor of the traditionalist newspaper The Remnant, wrote that with this dismissal, Francis was “actively trying to bury loyalty to the Church of Jesus Christ.”
“It’s all-out war,” Matt wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Francis represents a clear and present danger, not only to Catholics around the world, but also to the entire world itself. »
The two Vatican investigators – Archbishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, New Jersey, and retired Tucson, Arizona bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas – “conducted an exhaustive investigation into all aspects of the governance and direction of the diocese,” said the head of the diocese. the Church of Texas, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.
After their investigation, a recommendation was made to Francis that “retaining Bishop Strickland in power was not feasible,” DiNardo said in a statement Saturday.
The Vatican asked Strickland to resign on Nov. 9, but he refused, prompting Francis to remove him from office two days later, according to DiNardo’s statement.
It is rare for the pope to forcibly remove a bishop from office. Bishops are required to offer to resign when they reach 75 years of age. When the Vatican discovers governance or other problems that force a bishop to leave office before then, the Vatican usually seeks to pressure him to resign for the good of his diocese and the Church . .
This was the case when another American bishop was expelled earlier this year following a Vatican investigation. Knoxville, Tennessee Bishop Richard Stika resigned voluntarily, although under pressure, following allegations that he mishandled sexual abuse allegations, and his priests complained about his leadership and behavior.
But when it came to Strickland, the Vatican statement made clear that he had not offered to resign and that Francis had instead “relieved” him of his job.
Francis has not hidden his concerns about conservatives in the American Catholic hierarchy, divided between progressives and conservatives who have long found support from the doctrinaire papacies of Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, particularly on issues abortion and the like. sexual marriage.
In comments to Portuguese Jesuits in August, Francis lambasted the “backwardness” of these bishops, saying they had replaced faith with ideology and that a correct understanding of Catholic doctrine allowed for change over time .
More recently, Strickland criticized Francis’ months-long closed-door debate over the need to make the Church more welcoming and responsive to the needs of today’s Catholics. The meeting debated a host of previously taboo issues, including women in governance roles and welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics, but ultimately its final document did not deviate from established doctrine.
Before the meeting, Strickland said it was a “travesty” that such things were even on the table for discussion.
“Unfortunately, some may characterize those who disagree with the proposed changes as schismatics,” Strickland wrote in a public letter in August. “Instead, those who propose changes to what cannot be changed seek to commandeer the Church of Christ, and these are indeed the true schismatics.”
In a statement Saturday, the Diocese of Tyler announced Strickland’s removal but said the church’s work would continue in Tyler.
“Our mission is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, foster authentic Christian community, and meet the needs of all with compassion and love,” it says. “We strive to deepen our faith, promote the common good and create a welcoming environment for all to encounter the loving God – Father, Son and Spirit. »
In a social media post sent hours before the Vatican’s noon announcement, Strickland wrote a prayer about Christ being “the way, the truth and the life, yesterday, today and forever.” He had changed his old handle @bishopoftyler to @BishStrickland.