On the Removal of Bishop Strickland

On the Removal of Bishop Strickland November 11, 2023

a black and white photograph of church pews
image via Pixabay

 

Yes, I’ve heard about Bishop Strickland.

For those of you who haven’t heard about Bishop Strickland: the erstwhile bishop of the Diocese Tyler, Texas, who looks uncannily like Mister Rogers but whose social media posts resemble an alt right troll account, has been removed from his position by the Vatican. I’ll let the journalist Brian Fraga tell you all about it.

My only complaint about Fraga’s article is that the title calls Strickland a “firebrand.” As many have been pointing out, a firebrand is someone who blurts out incendiary things no matter the consequences, and that’s not Strickland’s problem. Strickland is a pampered toady who said exactly what would get him applauded by a certain set of important people. The Catholic alt right laps up every word of his.  The Lepanto Institute love him. EWTN thinks he’s just ducky. The aptly named Crisis Magazine thinks he’s a hero. That nutcase Vigano finds him a kindred spirit. Life Site News has started a petition defending him. That traitor Mike Flynn, of all people, is ranting about his firing being part of a conspiracy. Strickland played to a certain audience, he got exactly the accolade he wanted, and he’ll surely have a nice cushy reception if he decides to keep it up. That’s not a firebrand, that’s a teacher’s pet.

Now, it’s important to remember that the removal of Strickland was not stated to be in retribution for the man’s constant public taunting of Pope Francis.

Many of Strickland’s fans are claiming that’s the case, but the official reason is “all aspects of the governance and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler.” Fraga has interviewed an anonymous priest familiar with the matter, who told him that the Vatican’s recent formal investigation of the diocese involved “financial matters, Strickland’s leadership style and how it affected the morale of the priests in his diocese. ” And indeed, if you look at what the residents and clerics of the diocese had to say, this is the case. Cindy Plummer, a former employee of the diocese who was abruptly fired, is quoted as saying “”People have been writing to the nuncio for years about [Strickland], all related to how he was running his diocese.” And Amanda Martinez Beck, formerly the managing editor for the diocese’s magazine, expressed that she was so angered and disillusioned at his partisanship that she became a lapsed Catholic and doesn’t know whether she’ll go back to Mass. That’s what matters: his diocese, and the way he treated his flock.

The most poignant response to Strickland’s demise that I’ve seen, comes from a priest in the Diocese of Tyler, Father Timothy Kelly. I’ll give it to you here in its entirety:

“I think it’s important to say that many decent good people have been hurt under his administration.
Seven years ago, something dark descended upon the Diocese of Tyler.
Under the direction of Bishop Joseph Strickland, charity was replaced in this diocese.
Good, decent Catholic people, who had served at the diocese for a generation, were fired without as much as a thank you. Their hearts have never been recognized, nor has any apology ever been made.
Priests who disagreed with the bishop were intimidated by his supporters. I can personally attest to such phone calls from prominent friends of the bishop.
The bishop appointed people to positions of authority who are unworthy of those positions. (Thank God that most of them were later fired once the bishop felt that they were a threat to his authority.)
Every month, things in this diocese have gone steadily down and down.
Bishop Strickland’s well-being must be our primary concern today. He has been at war for the last few years. He has been manipulated and used by ruthless men, both laity and priests of this diocese, whose goal was to use the diocese and the bishop to push their extremist ideological agenda. I am not saying that Bishop Strickland is not responsible for his words, however, but some very unsavory men have influenced him.
It is essential that Bishop Strickland be given time to rest and come to terms with the disaster he had drawn upon himself and on us. It is important that he have some time for counseling and therapy. I wish him the best for his new life.
In the past, Bishop Strickland was a nice, unassuming, likable man, but in his addiction to celebrity he has ruined lives and ruptured decades-long friendships. Families have stopped going to Mass because of his unkind words. Parents have taken their children out of Catholic schools. He needs time for reflection. He needs time to rebuild the bridges he burned.
Bishop Strickland needs to step away from the cameras and microphones, and submit himself to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff.
Something dark has descended upon the Diocese of Tyler. Saint Peter was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The Bishop of Rome has spoken. That is the end of the matter.
Roma locuta est. Causa finita est.
Augustine of Hippo.”

And that is, indeed, the end of the matter.

A bishop’s duty is toward his flock, towards the Catholics in his diocese. As far as I’m concerned, a bishop can be as much of a “firebrand” or a toady as he wants, as long as he serves his flock, and Strickland did not.

Strickland’s celebrity went to his head, and he failed his flock. He went from a man who was by all accounts friendly and humble enough, to a tyrant mouthing off to please the right people. Now he’s lost his diocese, and that’s for the best.

My prayers go out to everyone who has been hurt by Bishop Strickland.

Let’s all try to make it a better world.

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

 

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