On November 11, the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours, a surprising announcement was made by the Holy See: Pope Francis has relieved Bishop Joseph Strickland of his duties as shepherd and bishop of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

The Holy See’s bulletin stated (inserted as the last section of the document):

Removal of bishop of Tyler, U.S.A., and appointment of apostolic administrator

The Holy Father has removed Bishop Joseph E. Strickland from the pastoral care of the diocese of Tyler, United States of America, and has appointed Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin as apostolic administrator of the same diocese, rendering it sede vacante.

Previously, Pope Francis had formally requested Bishop Strickland to resign, a request that was communicated through the papal nuncio Cardinal Cristophe Pierre. Despite declining this request, Bishop Strickland is now vacating his diocesan see upon the direct order of the Pope.

According to Canon 416, a diocesan see typically becomes vacant when the bishop resigns, transfers, dies, or is informed of a “privation” by the Pope. The Pope’s power to remove a diocesan bishop is not unrestricted; he can only issue a “privation” on the bishop’s exercise of his office within the strict confines of Canon Law.

Canonist Edward Peters explains that the commentaries on Canon 416 he examined all “consider a bishop’s ‘privation’ of office as possible only in the face of guilt for ecclesiastical crimes.” Peters notes that the Pope does not seem to have the power to “remove” a bishop under Canon 416, but a “privation” is indeed possible.

This bold action by Pope Francis is directed at one of the most outspoken and vocal bishops in the United States, who has garnered significant support both inside and outside his diocese for his promotion of traditional Catholic teaching.

Bishop Strickland and his diocese have been under close examination by the Catholic media since it was disclosed that he was the subject of an apostolic visitation in June 2023. This visitation was conducted by two retired bishops: Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, New Jersey, and former Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.

Bishop Kicanas, who has a controversial record on abortion and homosexuality, was noted by Catholics concerned about the visitation. He defended Catholic Relief Services’s funding of pro-abortion groups in 2012 and was endorsed by a homosexual group in anticipation of his becoming president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In a July episode of The Bishop Strickland Hour, Strickland likened his apostolic visitation to “being called to the principal’s office.” He suggested that it was a consequence of his vocal witness to Catholic doctrine.

This story is developing. Please stay tuned for more details.

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