In a rare move, Pope Francis has dismissed Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, following his refusal to step down after a Vatican investigation. Strickland, known for his staunch conservatism and vocal criticism of Pope Francis, becomes one of the few bishops to be relieved of duties outright, typically a drastic step reserved for cases where a bishop rejects a request to resign.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston revealed that Strickland was asked to resign on November 9 but refused to comply. Strickland, 65, a prolific user of social media, had been appointed to the diocese by the late Pope Benedict in 2012.
Earlier this year, Strickland publicly rejected Pope Francis' initiatives, particularly criticizing the pontiff's efforts to make the Church more inclusive for the LGBT community and to grant more responsibilities to lay people. The Vatican statement announcing the dismissal did not provide specific reasons for the decision.
In an interview with the ultra-conservative website LifeSiteNews, Strickland cited his refusal to implement Vatican directives restricting the use of the old-style Latin Mass as one of the reasons for his dismissal. He affirmed, "I stand by all the things that were listed as complaints against me... I'd do it the same way again. I feel very much at peace in the Lord and the truth that he died for."
The Vatican had conducted an investigation into the administration of the Tyler diocese earlier this year, including a review of financial affairs. Cardinal DiNardo stated that the investigation concluded Strickland's continuation in office "was not feasible."
Strickland, a prominent figure in the ultra-conservative wing of the U.S. Church, gained a national following beyond the small diocese of Tyler in eastern Texas. A strong supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Strickland has been hailed as a hero by conservative U.S. Catholic media outlets aligned with Trump.
Last year, Pope Francis expressed concern about what he referred to as a "reactionary" Catholic Church in the United States, where political ideology, in some cases, had replaced faith.
Following Strickland's dismissal, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, as the interim administrator of the Tyler diocese. The move marks a significant development in the ongoing dynamics within the Catholic Church in the United States.