By Courtney Mares
The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has relieved Bishop Joseph Strickland from his duties in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, and appointed an apostolic administrator to replace him.
Strickland’s removal on Nov. 11 comes after the Texas bishop refused a Vatican request for him to submit his resignation two days prior, according to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston.
The Vatican Dicastery for Bishops completed a formal investigation in the Diocese of Tyler earlier this year called an apostolic visitation, which, according to a source, looked into the bishop’s social media use and questions related to diocesan management.
The apostolic visitation conducted by Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden and Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas of Tucson made “an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership” of the Texas bishop and recommended that Strickland’s continuation in office was “not feasible,” DiNardo said in a statement on Nov. 11.
“After months of careful consideration by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Holy Father, the decision was reached that the resignation of Bishop Strickland should be requested,” he said.
Strickland, 65, served as bishop of the Diocese of Tyler since 2012. The widely popular though polarizing Texas bishop had faced criticism for his firebrand social media posts, including a May 12 tweet that suggested Pope Francis was “undermining the Deposit of Faith.”
The Vatican announcement did not provide a reason for the bishop’s removal. Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin will serve as the apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Tyler until a new bishop is appointed.
During Strickland’s 10-plus years at the helm of Tyler, the diocese experienced some noteworthy changes, such as the 2018 resignation of three diocesan officials, a move Strickland said at the time would position the diocese to best fulfill its mission.
But Strickland’s tenure has also coincided with positive signs of spiritual and administrative health in Tyler. Currently, 21 men are in priestly formation for the territory of 119,168 Catholics. The diocese is also reportedly in good financial shape, exemplified in part by its ability to raise 99% of its $2.3 million goal for the 2021 bishop’s appeal six months ahead of schedule.
Pope Francis met with American Cardinal Robert Francis Prevost, the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, on Saturday morning before Strickland’s removal was announced.
The pope’s decision to relieve Strickland of his pastoral governance of the east Texas diocese comes just two days before the start of the U.S. bishops’ fall plenary meeting, which will be held Nov. 13–16 in Baltimore.