East Texans have mixed reactions to Pope Francis’s rare removal of Bishop Joseph Strickland as the bishop of Tyler.
Strickland has criticized Pope Francis, accusing him in a tweet of undermining the deposit of faith. He has been particularly critical of Francis’ recent meeting on the future of the Catholic Church, during which hot-button issues were discussed, including ways to welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics better, according to the Associated Press.
According to a statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Pope Francis directed an Apostolic Visitation of the Diocese of Tyler in June. Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden and Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas of Tucson were appointed to conduct the visitation.
Following an extensive inquiry into “all aspects of the governance and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler,” a recommendation was made to the Pope that Strickland continuing to lead pastoral governance of the Diocese of Tyler “was not feasible,” according to DiNardo.
The Diocese of Tyler said Saturday it is committed to its mission of fostering Christian community during “this time of transition.”
“Our work as the Catholic Church in northeast Texas continues,” the diocese said.
Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, appointed by the Pope on Saturday as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Tyler, said he accepts the “Holy Father’s trust” in him and asked for prayers as he takes on the additional responsibility.
“As I continue my ministry as Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, over the next few weeks I will travel to the Diocese of Tyler to be present to you – the clergy, religious, diocesan staff and lay faithful of the diocese,” Vasquez said in a statement. “I am grateful to the staff of the Diocese of Tyler with whom I will collaborate during this transition and interim period. I look forward to meeting you and come with a desire to listen and understand the particular needs of the Diocese of Tyler.
According to the Diocese of Tyler, there is no timeline for how long it could be before a new bishop is appointed in Tyler. The diocese added that Strickland remains a bishop in the Catholic church, but he no longer serves as the Bishop of Tyler.
“Please continue to pray for him,” the diocese said in a statement.
Baptized as an infant, Longview resident James Marples is a lifelong Catholic who’s followed and disagreed with Strickland’s activities in recent years.
“As far as his ideological perspective, it’s pretty stern, and I just think he should have a little room for relaxation and not be quite so dogmatic,” Marples said. “I just hope we have a successor to him that will do better and be more harmonious and not have quite the acrimony and polarization that Strickland induced.”
Despite other feelings toward Pope Francis, Marples regards him as a “breath of fresh air.” He said Bishops are obligated to obey the Pope, and Strickland routinely put his own personality before the good of the Tyler Diocese.
“We need to move forward,” Marples said. “Strickland was hung up on nostalgia.”
Marples said those faithful to Strickland should reevaluate him in totality and not expound on hot-button political issues. East Texans and Catholics are generally conservative, but there are different degrees of ideology, from ultra one way or another to middle of the road.
“We don’t want to turn back time,” Marples said. “We need to create an even balance, and Strickland was a hindrance.”
Tyler resident Kelly Price said anyone who believes the Bible should support Strickland.
“I believe in the Word of God, and I believe that it has not changed,” Price said. “The Pope and other people are believing that the culture has dictated what people should do instead of what I believe that the Bible tells us what to do.”
Traditionalists who believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, pro-life individuals, some other bishops and his parishioners support Strickland, she said.
Price said the Pope seemed to “fire” Strickland for a political reason, not a moral or religious reason. It was a “cultural, political event,” she added. The Pope removed Strickland because he defended traditional Catholic beliefs in the Bible.
As a Baptist, Price said Strickland’s removal crosses all denominations. Belief in the Bible and the Word of God doesn’t fluctuate to fit the times.
“Culture doesn’t dictate to us. The Bible dictates our lives to us,” she said.
Ed Santos, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, expressed his shock at the news, saying, “the removal is a surprise to me.”
Santos maintained a close relationship with Strickland and was taken aback by the Pope’s decision on Saturday morning.
“Even with these changes, the Church will continue in its traditions,” Santos said to CBS19.
Santos highlighted Strickland’s role in building relationships and strengthening bonds with various communities within the faith, acknowledging his conservative beliefs.
“It is his mission, I believe, from how I have seen him behave, to continue to rely on what we call the deposit of faith,” Santos added.
Daniel Alders, a Tyler resident and a candidate for State Representative, House District 6, noted Strickland’s commitment to the Church and its people, a defender of unborn babies, traditional marriage and the core values of Christian life.
“I am not a member of the Catholic Church, but am a deacon at Fifth Street Presbyterian Church,” Alders said. “I have always appreciated his plainspoken defense of the Gospel and his defense of the traditional views of the Catholic Church.”
Alders said he was surprised by the “aggressive nature of the removal” and disappointed that the Vatican would see fit to remove a Bishop for standing for the truth and the traditional views.
“As a Protestant I have always been very grateful for the traditional Catholics whom I have known who have been willing to stand by Christian truths that we all believe are eternal – the value of human life, the sanctity of marriage, the importance of the family, the natural created order,” Alders said. “God does not change, and neither does His Word or His Truth.
Alders said he is grateful for Strickland’s willingness to stand for God’s Truth, and he hopes we all are willing to do so regardless of the political costs that might result.
“Our culture has drifted further and further from the timeless truths of Christianity and the Church across denominations has felt pressured to do the same,” Alders said. “I believe that the removal of Bishop Strickland is a result of this pressure, and it’s disappointing to see that from an institution like the Roman Catholic Church. I think this should be a reminder to all of us that standing for the Truth has consequences. Truth is not relative, but absolute.”
The local diocese has seen hundreds of folks move to the area because of Strickland’s faithful ministry, and this removal “pulls the rug” out from under a lot of faithful Catholics, he said.
“I want people to realize that we are coming to a point where this is what will happen when you stand for the Truth — when you stand for what is right. Bishop Strickland has been a humble and faithful servant in his church, and yet the spirit of the age has demanded that Truth be altered and our standards shifted,” Alders said. “Bishop Strickland’s courage under pressure should be an inspiration to all of us and encourage us to hold to the Truth, that God might be glorified.”
Now a Minnesota resident, Colin Patterson was born and raised in Tyler, which he called one of the most conservative towns in the country.
“It doesn’t particularly align with how I live my life now, which is kind of one of the reasons that I guess moved off,” Patterson said. “It was a very family oriented town. But I think in the last, maybe five or six years the country in general has become more polarized. Tyler has kind of gone even further right.”
Patterson grew up in the Catholic Church around Strickland most of his life. He remembers Strickland as an apolitical figure, but over the last several years, it’s become more political than he remembered as a child.
“Strickland is basically the Louie Gohmert of priests. Louie Gohmert was always one of the most conservative members of Congress, way out there to the right of most people on most issues and Strickland’s the same way,” Patterson said.
Strickland has been publicly defying the Pope for several years, so his removal wasn’t surprising, Patterson said.
“The Pope is trying to make the church a more inclusive place. Bishop Strickland has fought against that at every step in the process,” Patterson said. Patterson adds that East Texas is in a bubble that isn’t necessarily reflective of the country or even the conservative country. He said what’s happening in Tyler is extreme conservatism.