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Pope Francis has removed the bishop of Tyler, Joseph Strickland, who had been openly critical of the pope’s efforts to reform the Catholic Church to be more inclusive of women in governance and LGBTQ+ people.
The removal Saturday comes after the Pope dispatched two U.S. bishops last year to investigate Strickland’s governance of the Diocese of Tyler. The two bishops, who lead dioceses in New Jersey and Arizona, found it was “not feasible” for Strickland to remain in office, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said Saturday.
Strickland, who was born in Fredericksburg and raised in Atlanta, Texas, has not released a statement on his removal from office.
In a September public letter responding to the investigation, Strickland said he “cannot resign” because he would be abandoning the congregation the late Pope Benedict XVI charged him with leading.
"I have also said that I will respect the authority of Pope Francis if he removes me from office as Bishop of Tyler,” Strickland added.
The Pope asked Strickland to resign from office on Thursday. The bishop declined, leading Francis to forcibly remove him, DiNardo said. Pending “more permanent arrangements,” the pope has appointed Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin as administrator of the Diocese of Tyler.
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops declined to comment beyond DiNardo’s statement.
Strickland, 65 and well below the 75-year-old retirement age for bishops, has been a prominent conservative critic of the pope. In May, Strickland accused Francis of “undermining the deposit of faith.”
More recently, Strickland criticized the pope’s October meeting to discuss the future of the Catholic Church. The three-week, closed-door forum tackled topics including whether priests should be allowed to get married, whether women should be allowed to become deacons and how the church should treat LGBTQ+ people.
Strickland said it was a “travesty” that the Pope was opening these topics for discussion. In an August open letter ahead of the meeting, Strickland also underscored his belief that “through Natural Law, God has established marriage as between one man and one woman.” In a September letter, Strickland said Catholics must “reject… as contrary to the faith” any attempt to allow women to be ordained.
“Regrettably, it may be that some will label as schismatics those who disagree with the changes being proposed,” Strickland said of the Pope’s meeting agenda. “Instead, those who would propose changes to that which cannot be changed seek to commandeer Christ’s Church, and they are indeed the true schismatics.”
Ultimately, the synod left Catholic doctrine unchanged.
Strickland’s removal has sparked further backlash among the Pope’s conservative critics: Michael J. Matt, editor of the traditionalist Catholic newspaper The Remnant, declared the move was “total war” and said Francis was “actively trying to bury fidelity to the Church of Jesus Christ.” Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has previously called on the pope to resign, wrote that Strickland’s removal was “a cowardly form of authoritarianism.”
The Diocese of Tyler said Saturday it is committed to its mission of fostering Christian community during “this time of transition.”
“Our work as the Catholic Church in northeast Texas continues,” the diocese said.