Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was removed as the leader of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, by Pope Francis on Nov. 11, 2023, leads the recitation of the rosary outside the site of the U.S. bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore on Nov. 14, 2023. / Credit: Shannon Mullen/CNA
Baltimore, Md., Nov 14, 2023 / 18:20 pm (CNA).
Bishop Joseph Strickland didn’t join his fellow U.S. bishops at their annual fall assembly on Tuesday, but he wasn’t far away, leading the recitation of the rosary for a few dozen people outside the waterfront hotel where the bishops’ meeting was taking place without him.
“I figured since I’m in town and didn’t have to go to the meeting, I’d just come here and pray,” Strickland told CNA in a brief interview.
Strickland’s appearance came just three days after Pope Francis removed the 65-year-old prelate as the head of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.
Strickland remains an American bishop, however, and there is nothing in the statutes of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that would prevent him from participating in this week’s assembly.
In a five-minute interview outside the hotel, Strickland claimed that the papal nuncio to the U.S., Cardinal Christophe Pierre, asked him not to participate. Pierre, who addressed the bishops Tuesday morning, declined CNA’s interview request Tuesday.
Strickland showed up outside the meeting anyway, he said, because he “already had plans to be here.” He told CNA that he also had committed to leading a rosary outside the meeting. He has led a rosary outside the USCCB meeting in past years as well.
Strickland led the rosary while kneeling. A man kneeling and praying nearby held a sign that read, “We love Bishop Strickland.”
“Today is a day for living the Lord more fully. And so that’s what we are called to do. And that’s what I would encourage the bishops to just keep refocusing on. I have to, every day when I wake up, remember, what’s this about? It’s about following Jesus Christ,” Strickland told CNA.
“And today is a new day to follow him with joy and hope. His light is as bright as ever. We need to all remember that, and especially my brother bishops,” he said.
Strickland said that he may attend future USCCB meetings, but he thought it best not to do it this year, explaining, “I didn’t want to be a distraction.”
Why was Strickland removed?
Strickland told CNA that when he was notified about his removal, he received an email “with an attachment of the letter that said the Holy Father had … relieved me of the responsibilities as bishop of Tyler.”
Strickland’s removal on Nov. 11 follows a formal investigation of him and his diocese ordered by Pope Francis that occurred in June.
An official report of that investigation was never published, nor has the Vatican disclosed why Strickland was removed from office.
“I really can’t look to any reason except I’ve threatened some of the powers that be with the truth of the Gospel,” Strickland said in an interview with LifeSiteNews following his removal.
Strickland served as bishop of Tyler since 2012 and has been fiercely outspoken on certain Catholic social issues such as abortion and gender ideology. The firebrand bishop has gained a sizable social media following, where he has railed against the political agendas of elected officials who blatantly disregard the sanctity of the unborn.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, of which the Tyler Diocese is a suffragan, said following Strickland’s removal that the investigation focused on “all aspects of the governance and leadership” in the diocese, which ultimately concluded with a recommendation being made to Pope Francis that “the continuation in office of Bishop Strickland was not feasible.”
Speaking to CNA, Strickland didn’t provide any details about what administrative issues may have contributed to his ouster.
“Yeah, there are allegations, but we had the bishop’s appeal that was $3.1 million, larger than ever in the history of the diocese,” he said.
Strickland also touted the number of the diocese’s seminarians — 21 — now in formation, as well as “a presbyterate with great priests.”
“So yeah, you can make allegations of anything. But I think if you just look at the record of the diocese, it’s grown. People are moving in. It’s a happy place. It’s not perfect. It’s not heaven, but it’s in good shape,” he said.
Asked if any reasons were given for his removal, Strickland said that there were “verbal reasons” given by Pierre that were “quite extensive,” one of which was that he was too outspoken.
One notable example is a May 12 tweet in which he suggested that Pope Francis was “undermining the deposit of faith.”
“There were things that, yes, I did. I’ve raised a lot of questions. I’ve tried my best to guard the deposit of faith. And, you know, I feel the same commitment,” he said.
“Some say maybe I’ve spoken up too much, but how can we speak too much for the truth of Christ? It’s a treasure. It’s a beautiful light that the world desperately needs.”
Another reason he was given was “the fact that I didn’t shut down the Latin Mass in my diocese because, you know, I felt as a shepherd, I couldn’t do that,” he said, referring to the restrictions Pope Francis imposed on the old liturgy in his July 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes.
Strickland said that the document “wasn’t really clear” and could be debated upon but added that “many bishops haven’t shut down the Latin Mass in their diocese.”
Ultimately, his removal was the result of “an accumulation of things,” he said, adding that he’s “committed to Jesus Christ” and loves the Church.
“I love every aspect of the Church, but I think we’d all agree the Church needs to be stronger in Christ, and that’s what I’ve encouraged through all of this. My prayer is that every bishop, every faithful Catholic, can be drawn closer to the Sacred Heart of Christ,” he said.