Pope Francis Fires Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland After a Series of Controversial Statements

And the divide in the Church deepens

Paul Combs

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Credit: Catholic News Service/Vatican Media

In a rare but not unexpected move, today Pope Francis relieved Bishop Joseph Strickland of his position as head of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. Normally, even such an uncommon event as this would garner little media attention, especially for a diocese whose boundaries contain only around 120,000 Catholics out of a total population of more than one million. But these are not normal times, and Strickland’s firing (to call it what it was) was the lead story on many news websites this morning.

You would expect coverage from the two main American Catholic news outlets, of course, and both the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter put their usual spin on the story. In case you’re not familiar with these two organizations, when it comes to the hot-button issues of the day the National Catholic Register is like the Catholic equivalent of FOX News and the National Catholic Reporter is like MSNBC (the fact that their initials are both NCR causes no end of erroneous clicks by the two factions that read them religiously, pardon the pun).

Reporting on this story, however, went far beyond those two. In addition to coverage from across Texas (which is understandable), I saw stories from CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and even BBC News. If you’ve never heard of Bishop Strickland, you might wonder why the sacking of a bishop from deep in East Texas would cause such a stir. Chances are, however, that you have heard of him, because over the past five years or so he has gained much notoriety in the mainstream media because he just won’t be quiet.

Bishop Strickland has always been fond of social media. I can remember following his blog 15 years ago when he was just Father Joe, Tyler’s favorite priest who loved to jog everywhere and was such a kind, warm-hearted man that even the Baptists in East Texas liked him. He took that love of social media to a new level when Pope Benedict XVI named him Bishop of Tyler in 2012, posting on what was then Twitter more often than Elon Musk. Most of his posts were what you would expect from someone who was the shepherd of the East Texas flock, and love for him only…

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Paul Combs

Writer, bookseller, would-be roadie for the E Street Band. My ultimate goal is to make books as popular in Texas as high school football...it may take a while.