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, a Vatican statement said on Saturday.
It is very rare for a bishop to be relieved of his duties. Normally, bishops in trouble with the Vatican are asked to resign before submitting a resignation accepted by the Pope.
Popes make such moves, considered drastic, when a bishop refuses a request to resign. Strickland is 65, 10 years shy of the usual retirement age for bishops. Strickland had said earlier this year that he would refuse to resign if asked.
Strickland, a prolific social media user who was appointed to the diocese by the late Pope Benedict in 2012, tweeted earlier this year that he rejected Pope Francis’ “program that undermines the deposit of faith.”
He has been particularly critical of the pope’s attempts to make the church more welcoming to the LGBT community and Francis’s attempts to give laity more responsibility in the church and opposed a recent synod.
The dismissal followed a Vatican investigation earlier this year into the administration of the Tyler diocese, which, according to Catholic media, included a review of his handling of financial affairs.
It was announced simultaneously by the Vatican and the American Bishops’ Conference. None of the statements 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 had become one of the most vocal standard-bearers of the ultra-conservative wing of the American church and has a national following far beyond the tiny Diocese of Tyler in East Texas.
Last August, the pope lamented what he called a “reactionary” Catholic Church in the United States, saying political ideology had replaced faith in some cases.
Strickland is a strong supporter of former US President Donald Trump and is seen as a hero by conservative American Catholic media aligned with Trump.
Last year, when the Vatican deposed ultraconservative American anti-abortion priest Frank Pavone for “blasphemous” posts on social media and disobeying bishops, Strickland was one of the few American bishops to publicly defend him.
“The basfemia is that this holy priest is suspended while an evil president promotes denial of the truth and the murder of the unborn at every turn, Vatican officials promote immorality and denial of the deposit of faith, and priests promote gender confusion that destroys lives… evil ,” Strickland wrote on the platform then known as Twitter.
The Vatican said Francis appointed the bishop of Austin, Texas, Joe Vasquez, as the temporary administrator of the Tyler Diocese.
Reporting by Phil Pullella, writing by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Christina Fincher
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