Pope Francis on Saturday removed the bishop of Tyler, Texas, a conservative prelate active on social media and a vocal critic of the pontiff and some of his priorities.
In a terse statement, the Vatican said Bishop Joseph Strickland was “relieved of the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Tyler” and that the bishop of Austin was appointed interim administrator.
Strickland, 65, accused Francis in a tweet months ago of “undermining the deposit of faith.” He has been particularly critical of the recent synod on the future of the Catholic Church, during which hot-button issues such as how to include LGBTQ+ Catholics were discussed.
Months ago, the Vatican sent investigators to investigate the governance of the diocese after receiving reports that it made pronouncements that deviated from orthodox doctrine.
The Vatican has not released the conclusions of the investigation. For his part, Strickland had said in press interviews that he would not resign voluntarily, that the late Pope Benedict XVI gave him a mandate from which he would not abdicate, and that he was never told what the pope’s envoys were investigating.
It is unusual for the pope to relieve a bishop. Prelates have the obligation to present their resignation when they turn 75 years old. If the Vatican discovers governance or other problems that require the bishop to resign before reaching that age, he or she will typically be pressured to resign for the good of the diocese and the church.
But in Strickland’s case, the Holy See statement made clear that he was not offered the chance to resign and that Francis “relieved” him of his position.
Strickland had criticized the closed-door debate hosted by Francis about making the church more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of Catholics today. Until now taboo topics such as including women in hierarchical positions and welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics were debated, but the final document did not deviate from traditional doctrine.
Previously, Strickland had said that it was a “mockery” that such topics were even included in the discussion.
“Unfortunately, those who disagree with the proposed changes may be labeled schismatics,” Strickland wrote in a public letter in August. “In reality, those who would propose changes to what cannot be changed are trying to expropriate the Church of Christ and are, in effect, the true schismatics.”
The diocese did not immediately comment, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops only released an English translation of the Vatican statement with numerical data about the diocese.
In a social media message prior to the Vatican’s announcement, Strickland wrote a prayer about Christ as the “way, the truth and the life, yesterday, today and forever.”