Pope Francis dismissed Bishop Joseph Strickland, who oversees the diocese of Tyler, Texas, and has been one of his most outspoken critics, the Vatican announced Saturday — a rare move that underscores the divisions in the U.S. flank of the church.
Strickland had been asked to resign — as is the typical course of action when the church wants to oust and replace a bishop — but he refused, leading the pope to remove him forcibly, the Vatican said in a statement.
The Vatican said his dismissal came after an investigation “into all aspects of the governance and leadership” in his diocese.
No official reason has been provided for his dismissal at this time.
The Vatican appointed Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin to serve as apostolic administrator and manage the diocese while a replacement bishop is sought.
Strickland is 65 years old, 10 years younger than the typical age of retirement for bishops.
Strickland, a firebrand conservative, has been vocal about his opposition to Pope Francis, particularly the pope’s efforts to make the church more welcoming to LGBTQ Christians, additional responsibility being given to lay people (non-priests) and a recent synod (a meeting of church leaders) he called. Strickland called that synod “garbage.” He has written several public letters reiterating his beliefs that homosexuality is a sin, that women cannot be priests or serve in any priestly duties and that the church is moving in the wrong direction, including one in August in which he decried what he called an “evil and false message that has invaded the Church.” Strickland had frequently waded into politics — in December 2020 he spoke at a rally in Washington, D.C., organized by then-President Donald Trump’s supporters seeking to overturn the election. He is also a prolific social media poster — he once shared a video calling Pope Francis a “diabolically disoriented clown.”
Pope Francis has sought to bring progressive reforms to the church. Most recently, he said that transgender people can be baptized in the church as well as become godparents in Catholic baptisms and witnesses to Catholic weddings, though he has made statements criticizing transgender people in the past. In January, he was criticized by the more conservative members in the church for saying that homosexuality is not a crime. In February, he called for a greater level of involvement from lay people. And last month, he led a synod in Rome where church leaders discussed those issues. These actions have frequently put Pope Francis at odds with an increasingly vocal conservative flank of the church in the U.S.
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