Francis personally removes Bishop Strickland

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) –– Pope Francis has removed Bishop Joseph Strickland from his role of shepherd and bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

The shock announcement came via the Holy See’s daily bulletin, November 11. It stated simply

The Holy Father has relieved from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Tyler (U.S.A.) H.E. Msgr. Joseph E. Strickland and appointed the Bishop of Austin, H.E. Msgr. Joe Vásquez, [Bishop of Austin] as the Apostolic Administrator of the vacated diocese.

Bishop Strickland had been formally asked to resign by Pope Francis, in a request that came via the papal nuncio Cardinal Cristophe Pierre. Strickland declined this request, but now – upon the direct order of the Pope – is vacating his diocesan see.

Per Canon 416, a diocesan see is normally made vacant by the bishop resigning, transferring, dying, or having a “privation” made known to him by the Pope. The Pope’s ability to remove a diocesan bishop is not without many restrictions: indeed, he can only issue a “privation” on the bishop exercising his office by following the precise and exacting confines of Canon Law.

The respected Canonist Edward Peters has outlined that the commentaries on Canon 416 he examined all “regard a bishop’s ‘privation’ of office as being possible only in the face of guilt for ecclesiastical crimes (say, canonically illegal actions in regard to ecclesiastical property, contra cc. 1377 or 1389).”

Peters notes that the Pope does not appear to have the power to “remove” a bishop under Canon 416, but that a “privation” is indeed possible. He writes: “While ‘removal’ is a general way to lose ecclesiastical office (cc. 184192-195) not necessarily implying canonically criminal conduct, ‘removal’ from episcopal office does not, strictly speaking, seem possible under Canon 416, only privation (c. 196) seems possible, and such action implies guilt for ecclesiastical crimes.”

The striking move by Francis comes against one of the most forthright and vocal bishops in the United States, who has drawn considerable support both from within and without his diocese for his promotion of traditional Catholic teaching.

Strickland and his diocese have been the subject of much scrutiny among the Catholic media ever since it was revealed that he was subject to an apostolic visitation in June 2023. His visitation was conducted by two retired bishops: Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, New Jersey, and former Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.

Kicanas was widely noted by Catholics concerned about the visitation due to his troublesome record on abortion and homosexuality. He defended Catholic Relief Services’s funding of pro-abortion groups in 2012 and, among other things, was endorsed by a homosexual group in the likelihood of his becoming president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as LifeSite’s John-Henry Westen has reported.

Speaking on a July episode of The Bishop Strickland Hour, Strickland compared his apostolic visitation with “being called to the principal’s office.” He suggested that it was a result of his vocal witness to Catholic doctrine:

No, it’s not something that I would volunteer for, to go through an apostolic visitation. Because it kind of puts a shadow over the diocese, [and] a lot of people are convinced that there’s something really wrong. But I think that I went through this because I’ve been bold enough and love the Lord enough and His Church to simply keep preaching the truth.

No official results of the apostolic visitation were released to the public.

In September it then was widely reported that Pope Francis was planning to ask Bishop Strickland to resign, with many fearing that the forthright bishop would be imminently removed from his position.

READ: Bp. Strickland: SSPX ‘not in schism,’ Pope Francis is ‘undermining the deposit of faith’

Last year, Pope Francis removed Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, another outspoken advocate of Catholic teaching, from the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, without explanation, reportedly due to his support for conscience objections to COVID jab mandates.

Bishop Strickland, 65, is well known among LifeSite readers for his unequivocal defense of Catholic teaching, teaching that is often cast in confusion by papal statements or messages.

Strickland’s more public positions on moral and doctrinal issues include urging Francis to deny Holy Communion to former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over her support of legal abortion, accusing the pope of a “program of undermining the Deposit of Faith,” and condemning the prominent pro-LGBT “blasphemy” of Father James Martin, S.J. 

READ: Bishop Strickland refutes the error that ‘all men will be saved,’ emphasizes conversion in new letter

He has also been notably forthright on moral controversies in U.S. politics and culture, including the Biden administration’s spying on Catholics and public displays by self-described “Satanic” groups. This summer, he spoke at a protest against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ hosting an anti-Catholic drag queen troupe called the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” who style themselves as grotesque nuns. 

But in contrast, Pope Francis has not disciplined numerous bishops who have publicly contradicted Catholic doctrine on homosexual activitygendersame-sex “blessings,” the ordination of women, and the reception of the Eucharist.

In March, Pope Francis appointed prominently pro-LGBT Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., of Luxembourg a member of the Council of Cardinals after Hollerich said that he believes Church teaching on sodomy is “false.” Francis has also named Hollerich the relator general of his Synod on Synodality, an event which Bishop Strickland has repeatedly warned risks endangering the faith for many.

READ: Pope Francis picks notorious pro-LGBT clerics to participate in October Synod on Synodality

More recently, the Pope appointed Argentine Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández the prefect of the Dicastery (formerly Congregation) for the Doctrine of the Faith, despite Fernández’ heterodoxy on numerous subjects, and despite strong protest from victims of clerical sex abuse over Fernández’s troubling record on the issue.

READ: EXCLUSIVE: Cardinal Fernández says blessings are for ‘every’ person in ‘every situation’

Strickland’s apostolic visitation is believed to have been particularly prompted by a May 13 X (formerly Twitter) post in which he explicitly stated: “I reject his [Pope Francis’] program of undermining the Deposit of Faith.” 

Strickland’s statement came about due to doubling down on his prior rejection of a view held by Catholic podcaster Patrick Coffin – namely that Pope Francis is not the real pope. The bishop wrote: 

Please allow me to clarify regarding, ‘Patrick Coffin has challenged the authenticity of the Pope Francis.’ If this is accurate I disagree, I believe Pope Francis is the Pope but it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith. Follow Jesus.

Strickland’s original message had been to support the Magis Center, which had issued a public statement distancing itself from Coffin due to his views regarding the vacancy of the papal throne.

Father Robert Spitzer, S.J., president of the Center, had given an interview with Coffin before learning of Coffin’s position. Spitzer subsequently withdrew his connection from Coffin publicly. Bishop Strickland supported this action, saying that “I join Fr Spitzer and fully endorse his stance regarding any statements from Patrick Coffin regarding Pope Francis.”  

READ: Bishop Strickland: Catholics are not ‘schismatic’ for rejecting changes that contradict Church teaching

Shortly after, the Tyler-based prelate then issued a message warning about “conflicting voices” and urging instead that Catholics “always turn to Jesus.”

While speaking on his eponymous show in July, Strickland declared himself undeterred by any attempts to censor his proclamation of the truths of the Catholic faith, saying it is a “joy” to continue to “share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”  

“I know they won’t stop you and they won’t stop me. And we do it with love, and charity and clarity, and with humility, always ready to be corrected. But when we’re speaking of the truth of Jesus Christ, there is no correction. The world can try and shout us down, but it won’t work.”