VATICAN CITY, Nov 11 (Reuters) – Pope Francis has dismissed Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, one of his fiercest critics among American Roman Catholic conservatives.
It is very rare that a bishop is completely relieved of his duties. Bishops in trouble at the Vatican are usually asked to resign before submitting a resignation letter, which the pope accepts.
Popes view such moves harshly if a bishop refuses a request to resign. Strickland is 65, 10 years shy of the typical retirement age for bishops. Strickland said earlier this year that he would refuse to resign if asked.
Strickland, a prolific user of social media who was named to the diocese by the late Pope Benedict in 2012, tweeted earlier this year that he rejected Pope Francis’ “plan to undermine the faith.”
He was particularly critical of the Pope’s efforts to make the Church more welcoming to the LGBT community and Francis’ efforts to give more responsibility to the laity in the Church and opposed the recent synod.
Tyler was fired earlier this year following a Vatican investigation into the administration of the diocese, which Catholic media reports said led to a review of his handling of financial affairs.
It was announced simultaneously by the Vatican and the US bishops’ conference. Neither report gave a reason.
There was no immediate response from Strickland. A recording on the diocese’s phone said they were closed for the weekend.
Strickland has become one of the most vocal standard-bearers of the ultra-conservative wing of the American church and has a national following beyond the tiny Diocese of Tyler in East Texas.
Last August, the pope lamented what he called a “regressive” Catholic Church in America, where he said political ideology had in some cases replaced faith.
Strickland is a strong supporter of former US President Donald Trump and is seen as a hero by conservative US Catholic media aligned with Trump.
Last year, Strickland was one of the few American bishops to publicly defend ultraconservative American anti-abortion priest Frank Pavone when he was fired by the Vatican for “blasphemous” social media posts and disobedience to bishops.
“The blasphemy is that this holy priesthood is being revoked, while an evil president promotes denial of the truth and the killing of the unborn at every turn, Vatican officials promote immorality and denial of faith and priests promote a life of destruction of gender confusion. Evil,” Strickland wrote on the platform then known as Twitter.
Francis appointed Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, as interim administrator of the Diocese of Tyler, the Vatican said.
Reporting by Bill Pullella, writing by Alvis Armellini; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Christina Finzer
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