Pope Francis has fired Texas bishop Joseph Strickland, a fierce critic who has questioned the pope’s leadership of the Catholic Church.
The Vatican said the bishop would be “relieved” of his duties as a result of investigations at his Diocese of Tyler.
Bishop Strickland is a leading voice in a branch of American Catholicism opposed to the Pope’s reforms.
His removal comes after Francis spoke of the “backwardness” of some US Catholic Church leaders.
Bishop Strickland has launched a series of attacks on the pope’s attempts to update the church’s position on social issues and inclusion, including on abortion, transgender rights and same-sex marriage.
In July, he warned that many “fundamental truths” of Catholic teaching were being challenged, including what he called attempts to “undermine” marriage “as instituted by God”, which is only between a man and a woman.
He criticized as “disorder” the attempts of those who “reject their undeniable biological God-given identity”.
His letter suggested that attempts to change “the unchangeable” would lead to an irrevocable schism in the church. Those who seek change, he warned, “are the true schismatics”.
Bishop Strickland was under investigation by the Vatican and had previously turned down the option of resigning, challenging the Pope in an open letter in September to fire him.
“I cannot resign as bishop of Tyler because that would be me leaving the flock,” he said.
The right-wing “Coalition for Suspended Priests” held a conference earlier this year to support him during the investigation.
The Vatican said the decision to fire him “came after an apostolic visit ordered by the Pope last June to the Diocese of Tyler”. According to Catholic media, the investigation has also looked into the handling of financial affairs in the diocese.
Bishop Strickland, 65, was appointed bishop in 2012 while Benedict XVI was pope.
It all follows significant attempts by the Pope to make the Church more progressive during his papacy.
On Thursday, the Vatican announced that transgender people can be baptized in the Catholic Church as long as it does not cause scandal or “confusion”.
In October he suggested the church would be open to blessing same-sex couples, telling a group of cardinals “we cannot be judges who only deny, reject and exclude”.
The Pope said at a meeting at the celebration of World Youth Day in Lisbon that the backwardness of some people was “useless”.
“If you do this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies for support. In other words, ideologies replace faith,” he added.
Climate change has also been a key pillar of his papacy – from a landmark paper on the environment in 2015 to recent warnings that the world may be “nearing the tipping point” due to climate change.
He has also strongly condemned climate deniers and will attend the UN Climate Summit (COP28) later this month – the first time a pope has attended the event since it began in 1995.
The Vatican said the Diocese of Tyler would be temporarily administered by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin.