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Strickland Sadly Stricken
Commentary | Opinion
Commentary | Opinion
There are a lot of voices added to the mix about the removal of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas from his episcopal duties. He was asked to resign on November 9 and declined to do so. As a result, Pope Francis removed him from his office on November 11. The reason(s) for his removal have not been made public by the Vatican. So, those many voices that are sounding off about the situation are speculating for the most part.
Here at Good Distinctions, we are in favor of reigniting good conversation, finding the best distinctions, and inspiring others to do the same. We are in desperate need of this mindset in this current moment in the Church, especially in America. And the following is an attempt to see this event from multiple angles before coming to conclusions. I am desiring to provide a measured approach, but it is certainly by own commentary and contains my own thoughts, perceptions, and preconceptions. Take it for what you will.
I will not link it here (as I do not care to be the cause of more traffic to the site), but Mike Lewis’ take on the situation seems gleeful and a bit “what took so long?” in spirit. His publication Where Peter Is claims to be a centrist publication but they tend to the left of America Magazine from time to time. In one post on X in June 2023, Mike Lewis wrote this: “One hopes that the ridiculous QAnon sideshow in Tyler will soon come to an end.” I find these sorts of sentiments despicable.
Bishop Strickland was outspoken on matters of faith and morals and was a bastion of orthodoxy. Many in the Catholic blogosphere who desire for a more pastoral approach - as they see it - were often put off by the bishop’s courageous proclamation of truth.
The headlines in the secular news make it clear where the global news media stand: “Pope removes outspoken conservative Texas bishop” (CNN), “Texas Bishop Loudly Critical of the Pope is Removed” (NYT), “Pope forcibly removes Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland” (PBS). One might assume from these headlines that a monster was declawed.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Strickland a few years at the Napa Summer Conference. The first time I saw him was about half an hour before Mass. He was just outside the door of the sacristy, out of view of the room, kneeling and praying before the tabernacle. I spoke to him at one of the meals and thanked him for his courage in proclaiming the Gospel; he humbly and quietly remarked that it is what we are all called to and he is grateful to God for the opportunity.
On the more conservative side of things, Crisis Magazine came out with an opinion article entitled “Bishop Strickland Becomes a Victim for the Church He Loves” by Kevin Wells. The author says that all of this started five years ago when Bishop Strickland publicly remarked on the McCarrick situation and how it stems from many clergy in the Church not being of one mind of the wrong and sinful nature of homosexual acts. He also alluded to “a priest who travels around now, basically saying that he doesn’t [believe in the doctrine of the Church],” and no one was at a loss to know that he was referring to Fr. James Martin. Certainly, this address ruffled feathers, as did Bishop Strickland’s involvement in the rally outside Dodger Stadium this past summer. But, again, I would urge caution. The narrative being spun in this Crisis article is compelling as far as narratives go, but we do not have the actual reason for the administrative action taken by the Vatican. So, again, it is speculation.
Some critics of this move by Pope Francis are branding him as an “antipope,” “tyrant,” “dictator,” and many other such monikers. What I think is most astounding of all are the comments all over social media saying “I stand with Bishop Strickland, not Pope Francis.” Many simply say “I stand with Strickland” but the latter half remains implied: “I do not stand with Pope Francis.” This is, for me, where things are the thorniest.
Bishop Strickland is a faithful son of Holy Mother Church. He loves our Lord Jesus Christ, is devoted to the Holy Eucharist, and loves His Blessed Mother. He is zealous and joyful in his preaching of the Gospel. Nonetheless, he is human and has fallen to some rather imprudent decisions, especially on social media. He seems to give support to a sedevacantist. When we discovered that the man he was supporting was actually a schismatic, he walked back his statements in haste. Bishop Strickland is not a schismatic and would not want to give the appearance of it! Yet, he still wrote this on X: “Please allow me to clarify regarding, ‘Patrick Coffin has challenged the authenticity of the Pope Francis.’ If this is accurate I disagree, I believe Pope Francis is the Pope but it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith. Follow Jesus.”
He wrote this about Pope Francis: “his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith” and it is still up on X from May 12. For a bishop, there is no excuse for this. Fraternal correction is one thing. This is public defamation of the Roman Pontiff by a sitting bishop.
The next day, he did tweet this on May 13: “In these troubling times with so much confusion even from Rome it is critical to remain IN THE CHURCH. Schismatic movements like SSPX or Sedevacantists however well-intended are an injury to the body of Christ. We must fight for total unity, not just aspects of Catholicism.”
But then, he posted this on May 14: “A correction…as Bishop Schneider has stated, the SSPX is not in schism. The SSPX continues to hold Tradition out for the Universal Church. The Eucharist of the SSPX is held as valid by the Catholic Church. We must turn to Jesus’ Eucharistic face.”
To see why SSPX is most definitely in schism and why Bishop Schneider is misled on this point, please read or listen to:
At any rate, these tweets are imprudent and misguided. This does not, however, make Bishop Strickland a bad bishop or even a bad man. It makes him a member of the human race living in a fallen world. The papal nuncio, according to Bishop Strickland, did mention verbally that the Texan bishop was “too outspoken.” My question would then be: so what? Is it wrong to be too outspoken? Certainly this does not stop our Blessed Lord from speaking the truth. The bishop said, “Some say maybe I’ve spoken up too much, but how can we speak too much for the truth of Christ? It’s a treasure. It’s a beautiful light that the world desperately needs.” On the other hand, speaking out imprudently and in grave error (flirting with schismatic sentiments) is where being too outspoken is a vice not a virtue. So, with everything in this case, it is a complicated picture.
Another instance in which Bishop Strickland may have been too outspoken was in his (dis)regard of Traditionis Custodes. This was also brought up by the papal nuncio verbally to Bishop Strickland. The bishop said that this other reason was “the fact that I didn’t shut down the Latin Mass in my diocese because, you know, I felt as a shepherd, I couldn’t do that.” After the accompanying letter a year after Traditionis Custodes, I am not buying this argument. The Vatican did not ask the dioceses to shut down the Latin Mass; they asked for regulation. And it did not affect any of the Ecclesia Dei communities. So, this is an overly simplistic reading of the document, and publicly saying that the Pope is asking for the Latin Mass to be shut down is simply not accurate. This kind of reductionism amplified by a bishop with such a large platform will lead to division between the faithful devoted to the Usus Antiquor and the Holy Father. That is a non-starter. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. So, again, imprudent.
Even as I am writing this, the personal character of Bishop Strickland is shining through more clearly in his response to his removal. He is asking people to pray for Pope Francis and to cling to our Lord Jesus in prayer. He also chose to go to Baltimore, Maryland during the bishops’ assembly. This was an odd choice, since he chose not to attend the meeting. The reason he is not at the meeting is because he does not want to be a distraction. However, he said that he already had the plane ticket and he had already committed to leading the rosary with members of the faithful outside of the meeting on the sidewalk. So, he did. This response shows me that the bishop is responding with grace, dignity, and prayerful contemplation. He is a servant of the Church and loves Pope Francis as he should.
The heart of Bishop Strickland also shown through in his pastoral letter from earlier this year. He speaks with the heart of concerned father to his troubled children in search of calming guidance. He states many truths of the Faith with eloquence. But then he writes this:
In the weeks and months ahead, many of these truths will be examined as part of the Synod on Synodality. We must hold fast to these truths and be wary of any attempts to present an alternative to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to push for a faith that speaks of dialogue and brotherhood, while attempting to remove the fatherhood of God. When we seek to innovate upon what God in His great mercy has given us, we find ourselves upon treacherous ground. The surest footing we can find is to remain firmly upon the perennial teachings of the faith.
Regrettably, it may be that some will label as schismatics those who disagree with the changes being proposed. Be assured, however, that no one who remains firmly upon the plumb line of our Catholic faith is a schismatic. We must remain unabashedly and truly Catholic, regardless of what may be brought forth. We must be aware also that it is not leaving the Church to stand firm against these proposed changes. As St. Peter said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68) Therefore, standing firm does not mean we are seeking to leave the Church. 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.
I urge you, my sons and daughters in Christ, that now is the time to make sure you stand firmly upon the Catholic faith of the ages. We were all created to seek the Way, the Truth and the Life, and in this modern age of confusion, the true path is the one that is illuminated by the light of Jesus Christ, for Truth has a face and indeed it is His face. Be assured that He will not abandon His Bride.
This was written in August and the Synod on Synodality has come and gone. Perhaps I will make an episode about the synod in the coming weeks, but for now I will just say this: the true colors of many progressive clerics has been shown and it is not good. Bishop Strickland was right to be wary in a lot of ways. However, the process itself is not over and the no teachings have been changed. Even the proposals from October seem to innocuous or (at most) potentially problematic at a later date.
What I take issue with to some extent is Bishop Strickland’s inclusion of the statement about being labeled schismatic for disagreeing with changes being proposed. This seems to be personal for Bishop Strickland. It evokes the issues he had with Traditionis Custodes and goes back to the comment about Pope Francis “undermining the Deposit of Faith.” All the while, he is ardently trying to communicate the perennial and life-giving truths of the Catholic Faith and assure his flock of the need to adhere to Jesus Christ and His Church in its fullness.
Many in the Church are upset because they are rightly seeing the disparity between this action against Bishop Strickland and the seeming immunity of the off-kilter German bishops and their Synodal Way. Or folks like Fr. James Martin undermining the Faith and continuing with impunity. Or various others attempting to change faith and moral teachings of the Church without a word from the Vatican to the contrary. This is frustrating and unjust. So, it is okay to have this reaction. However, the comparison game will inevitably get us nowhere.
Instead, we have to take full personal responsibility. If we misspeak, we should do what we can to correct the situation. If we send out something ridiculous on social media, we should apologize and delete it. If you are reading this and you have corrected me in the past: thank you! I appreciate when someone calls me out for overstating something or coming across as uncharitable. The truth deserves charity. But the truth also deserves prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. The issues around Bishop Strickland’s public speech have not been sufficiently corrected. He saw himself as upholding the integrity of the Catholic Faith and he did. But he undermined his own message in his seeming inability to navigate good communication practices and the reality of perception.
St. Paul withstood St. Peter to his face and he was right to do so. But it was done appropriately, prudently, effectively, and there was no hint of disunity. In his ardor for the Church and love of Christ, Bishop Strickland was often quick to overstate. At the end of the day, though, I do not think that his removal was called for in the slightest. I think it was heavy-handed and it was not good. The Pope is within his rights, but, in my estimation, it was a bad move and will lead to more division, not less. So, while we can point to certain aspects of Bishop Strickland potentially stepping over the line, I would ask: was there truly no other way to correct these moments?
Pray for Pope Francis. Pray for Bishop Strickland. Pray for the faithful and clergy of the Diocese of Tyler. Pray.