Pope Francis is considering a request for the resignation of an outspoken conservative bishop in northeast Texas.
According to a report by Catholic news outlet The Pillar, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the archdiocese of Tyler was the subject of a Sept. 9 meeting between the Holy Father and cardinals-elect Robert Prevost and Christophe Pierre. Prevost is the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, the body responsible for recommending the appointment of new bishops, and Pierre is the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio — or national ambassador — to the United States.
“The situation of Bishop Strickland is the agenda, and the expectation is that the Holy Father will be requesting his resignation,” an unnamed source told the publication.
Strickland has gained notoriety in recent years for his opposition to abortion, vaccine mandates, and LGBTQ ideology.
In January, Strickland criticized President Joe Biden for his support of taxpayer funding for abortions, arguing, “It is time to denounce Biden’s fake Catholicism.”
In May, he accused Pope Francis of “undermining the Deposit of Faith,” a term for the divine authority Catholics believe has been vested in the presumed successor to the Apostle Peter. Although Strickland’s statement was an attempt to clarify that he disagrees with the assertion by a conservative Catholic podcaster that Francis is not the legitimate pope, he implicitly endorsed the podcaster’s criticism of the pontiff for embracing lockdowns and the COVID-19 vaccines while failing to defend the church’s traditional views on issues like abortion, divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality.
And in June, Strickland led a prayer rally outside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles during the team’s “Pride Night” event featuring a group of drag queens known as the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” one of whose members was recently arrested for “indulging” himself in public. Although the local archdiocese urged Catholics to pray for their community in response to the event, they stopped short of endorsing the rally held outside the stadium, fearing it could lead to confrontation and paint Catholics in a negative light.
Later that month, Strickland was visited in Tyler by emissaries from the Vatican. During his weekly podcast, he compared the visit to “being called to the principal’s office,” saying he was being investigated for “simply preaching the truth.”
However, the Vatican has had eyes on Strickland for at least the last two years.
At the 2021 annual meeting for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Strickland was confronted by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who warned him to tone down his rhetoric because “we’re watching you.”
When contacted by Religion News Service for comment on the report of the pope’s meeting, Strickland said he had not heard anything about it from the Vatican. He also indicated he would not resign if asked to do so.
“As a basic principle I cannot resign the mandate given to me by Pope Benedict the XVI,” he wrote in an email. “Of course, that mandate can be rescinded by Pope Francis, but I cannot voluntarily abandon the flock that I have been given charge of as a successor of the apostles.”
If Strickland is removed by Francis, some critics worry conservative Catholics would view him as a political martyr.
Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, expressed this concern to Religion News Service in May when the aforementioned incident between Strickland and Pierre was first disclosed.
“I believe that the fear is that, if he’s removed, his visibility will be amplified,” Faggioli said.
However, Strickland insists his priority is the gospel of Christ, and he isn’t trying to make a name for himself.
These recent remarks echo what he said during a July episode of his podcast.
“Really, it isn’t about me, but it’s about the truth of our faith,” Strickland explained.
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Nevertheless, he indicated nothing would deter him from this mission, saying, “I’m willing to go through anything [that] I have to, to continue to proclaim that message because love for God’s people means we share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
“They won’t stop me,” he continued. “When we’re speaking the truth of Jesus Christ, there is no politically correct. And the world can try to shut us down, but it won’t work.”
Pope Francis and the Vatican might have something to say about that, but it doesn’t appear Bishop Strickland will be riding off into the sunset anytime soon.