Pope Francis on Saturday dismissed US bishop Joseph Strickland, a prominent conservative who has repeatedly criticised his papacy, the Vatican announced.
The rare decision to remove a senior Catholic figure from his post came after Francis sent two US bishops to visit Strickland’s Texas diocese in June.
“The Holy Father has relieved from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Tyler (US) Joseph E. Strickland,” the Vatican said in a statement.
It said the bishop of Austin, Joe Vasquez, had been named as apostolic administrator of the diocese, but gave no further details.
Commentators say it is extremely rare for a bishop to be directly relieved of his responsiblities, rather than encouraged — or told — to resign.
In a blog posted on his website in September, Strickland addressed rumours that he was being encouraged by the Vatican to step down.
“I cannot resign as bishop of Tyler because that would be me abandoning the flock” under his care, he wrote.
“I have also said that I will respect the authority of Pope Francis if he removes me from office as Bishop of Tyler.”
He made no immediate comment on his dismissal, which was announced while it was still early on Saturday morning in the United States.
In his blog posting in September, he wrote: “I love Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church which He established.
“My only desire is to speak His Truth and live God’s Will to the best of my ability.”
– ‘Reactionary attitude’ –
The Vatican has not said what sparked the apostolic visitation this summer or what conclusions were reached.
Strickland wrote that the two bishops had spent a week conducting interviews — including with him — about the condition of the diocese.
The Texas bishop, appointed by former pope Benedict XVI in 2012, was one of the most prominent critics of Pope Francis.
The Argentine pope, 86, has sought to forge a more compassionate Church, open to different views.
But he has faced intense opposition from critics — particularly in the United States — who accuse him of causing confusion and failing to uphold key Catholic beliefs.
In a message earlier this year on X, formerly Twitter, Strickland accused the pope of “undermining the deposit of faith”.
Many of his critics complain Francis is not outspoken enough on abortion and too compassionate towards homosexuals and divorcees.
While speaking to a meeting of Jesuits in Lisbon, Francis lamented the “strong reactionary attitude” of some Catholics in the US.
He said looking backwards “is useless and we need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals”.
The decision to dismiss Strickland was also announced by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, although their statement provided no more details than the Vatican.
There are more than 120,000 Catholics in the diocese of Tyler, out of a total population of more than 1.4 million people, according to the conference.
The diocese published a statement on its website confirming the news from the Vatican, adding: “Our work as the Catholic Church in northeast Texas continues.”
Pope Francis dismissed a bishop in Puerto Rico, Daniel Fernandez Torres, in similar fashion in March 2022.
Again, the Vatican gave no reason. Torres himself claimed he had been told he had not been “obedient” to the pope and did not have sufficiently good relationships with fellow bishops. Media reports at the time noted he had supported those who refused compulsory coronavirus vaccinations.
Originally published as Pope dismisses US bishop who was prominent critic