Pope Francis has dismissed the Texas bishop Joseph E. Strickland who had strongly criticised and questioned the Catholic leader for changes he has sought in the church's teaching on social matters.
The removal of Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas, from his post on Nov. 11, came after he refused to resign, Vatican News reported, and the firing is seen as a rare move.
The Pope has appointed Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin in Texas as apostolic administrator of the same diocese.
The Argentine pope, who is now 86, has sought since taking office 10 years ago to forge a more compassionate church, open to different views, the Monitor newspaper in Uganda reported in a dispatch by AFP.
"The Vatican did not explain the move, a rare sacking in the Catholic Church, where troublesome senior clerics are normally encouraged -- or told -- to resign," said the AFP report.
"The decision came after an apostolic visitation ordered by the Pope last June in the Diocese of Tyler, which was entrusted to two US bishops, Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, and Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas of Tucson."
In a May 12 tweet, Bishop Joseph Strickland wrote, "I believe Pope Francis is the Pope, but it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith. Follow Jesus."
Cardinal Daniel Nicholas DiNardo, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, released a statement published on the website of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
In it he noted that the prelates "conducted an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler by...Bishop Joseph Strickland."
"As a result of the Visitation," the statement continues, "the recommendation was made to the Holy Father that the continuation in office of Bishop Strickland was not feasible."
"After months of careful consideration by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Holy Father, the decision was reached that the resignation of Bishop Strickland should be requested. Having been presented with that request on November 9, 2023, Bishop Strickland declined to resign from office." Pope Francis then decided to remove the bishop."
According to Catholic Culture, Bishop Strickland wrote in email to The Wall Street Journal, "I'm saddened for the harm to the faithful but at peace in His Truth, stay Jesus Strong."
"I stand by all the things that were listed as complaints against me," Bishop Strickland said in a phone interview with LifeSiteNews. "I know I didn't implement Traditionis Custodes [the Pope's 2021 letter on the traditional Latin Mass] because I can't starve out part of my flock," Catholic Culture quoted him saying.
He added, "I'd do it the same way again. I feel very much at peace in the Lord and the truth that He died for."
In September, Bishop Strickland said he would not resign from office if requested to do so, but Catholic Culture reported that he accepted the Pope's decision to remove him from office.
Strickland is a prolific user of social media who was named to the diocese by the late Pope Benedict in 2012, tweeted earlier this year that he rejected Pope Francis' "program undermining the Deposit of Faith," Reuters news agency reported.
He has been particularly critical of the Pope's attempt to make the church more welcoming to the LGBT community and attempts by Francis to give lay people more responsibility in the church and opposed a recent synod.
Fox News reported that in 2020, Strickland maintained that the Roman Catholic Church has become "weak" under the leadership of the current pontiff and challenged Francis to fire him. He has also retweeted a video blasting Pope Francis as a "diabolically disoriented clown," according to the National Catholic Reporter.