Francis dismissed a bishop who criticized the opening of his pontificate

Pope Francis has dismissed American Bishop Joseph Strickland, a prominent conservative who repeatedly criticized his papacy, the Vatican announced yesterday in the Official Gazette.

“The Holy Father dismissed Joseph E. Strickland from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Tyler” in the United States, the Vatican announced in a statement. The bishop of Austin, Joe Vásquez, was named apostolic administrator of the diocese, it was indicated.

In June, the prelate received an apostolic visit, entrusted by Francis to two American bishops emeritus, Gerald Kicanas and Dennis Sullivan, in order to carry out an investigation against him. And the general thesis was that the investigation was due precisely to his traditionalist positions, irreconcilable with the new direction initiated by Pope Bergoglio.

According to experts, it is extremely rare for a bishop to be directly removed from his responsibilities, rather than being encouraged or ordered to resign. Monsignor Strickland, 65, was far from the retirement age at which each prelate must present his resignation to the Holy See.

In a blog post posted on his website in September, Strickland responded to rumors that the Vatican urged him to resign. “I cannot resign my position as bishop of Tyler, because it would be equivalent to abandoning the flock in my care,” he wrote at the time. “I have also stated that I will respect the authority of Pope Francis if he removes me from my duties as Bishop of Tyler,” he added.

Far from questioning the Pope’s decision for the moment, Strickland yesterday limited himself to publishing a spiritual consideration on his networks: “Always rejoice that… whatever the day may bring, Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, yesterday, today and always. May the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary always inspire us to return to Christ, no matter how much we wander in the darkness. “Jesus is Light of Light.”

In September, he had written on his blog: “I love Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that He founded (…) My only desire is to speak His truth and live God’s will to the best of my ability.”

The Vatican did not specify what triggered the June apostolic inspection or what conclusions it reached. Strickland wrote that the two bishops had spent a week conducting interviews about the situation in the diocese. It was Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Bishops, who revealed yesterday in a note that the prelates who made the visit “conducted an exhaustive investigation into all aspects of the government and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler by its Ordinary, Bishop Joseph Strickland.”

“As a result of the visit,” he continued, “a recommendation was made to the Holy Father that Bishop Strickland’s continuation in office was not possible.” After months of careful consideration by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Holy Father, the decision was reached to request the resignation of Bishop Strickland. After receiving this request, Monsignor Strickland refused to resign from his position on November 9, 2023. Hence, just two days later, the Pope’s decision to remove the prelate from his position.

Critical. The Texan bishop, appointed by Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI in 2012, is one of the most prominent critics of the Argentine Pope.

In the last year, he has accused the pope of undermining the Catholic faith, questioned whether Vatican officials qualify as Catholic, and warned that the October Synod, the global gathering of bishops and laity that is key to Francis’ vision of the Church, was a vehicle to threaten “basic truths” of Catholic doctrine. He fears in particular that innovations will be promoted in marriage, the Eucharist, sexuality and openness to homosexuals.

As the New York Times recalled, Strickland, now a martyr to traditionalists frustrated with Francis’s openness, has an unusually powerful platform from which to express that point of view. He has a weekly radio show that is popular among conservatives, and has more than 145,000 followers on –X–, formerly Twitter. That figure is even higher than the number of Catholics in his diocese, which will now be led by a bishop more in line with Francis’ vision.

The 86-year-old pontiff is trying to make the Church more open to different points of view. But he has faced strong opposition from his critics, especially in the United States, who accuse him of causing confusion and not respecting the fundamental beliefs of Catholics.

In a message published earlier this year in X, Strickland accused the Pope of “undermining the deposit of faith.” Many of his critics accuse Francis of not being firm enough on the issue of abortion and of showing too much tolerance toward gays and divorced people.

During a meeting of Jesuits in Lisbon, Francis lamented the “strongly reactionary attitude” of some Catholics in the United States. He also stated that going back to the past “is useless” and that it is necessary “to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the way we approach issues of faith and morality.”

Challenge. Even for many disgruntled conservatives, who feel that Francis is watering down Church teaching and rules with his overly inclusive approach, Bishop Stickland went too far by publicly announcing in September that he would not resign.

But his supporters in the most conservative corners of the Church considered his dismissal as another piece of information in their argument that Francis, for all his talk of tolerance and mercy, is a totalitarian ruler, a “dictator Pope,” they have called him. that crushes the opposition.

“Today we saw something unusual in the bulletin of the Holy See. They openly recognize that Strickland has not presented his resignation but rather that it was Pope Francis himself who has removed him from his position in a despotic exercise of his Petrine ministry,” wrote the Spanish portal Infovaticana.

For this medium, spokesperson for the most conservative sectors of the Spanish Church, by dismissing Strickland “the Pope has once again made use of his absolute power to remove a bishop faithful to the doctrine and Magisterium of the Catholic Church. ”.

For his part, Michael J. Matt, editor of the traditionalist newspaper The Remnant, wrote in X: “This is total war. Francis represents a clear and present danger not only to Catholics around the world, but also to the world at large. He now appears to be actively trying to bury fidelity to the Church of Jesus Christ. Let it be anathema.”

The decision to remove Strickland was also announced by the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference, in a statement as brief as that of the Vatican. The Diocese of Tyler has more than 120,000 Catholics out of a total population of more than 1.4 million, according to the Conference.

“Our work as a Catholic Church in Northeast Texas continues,” the diocese stated.

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