The Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops has undertaken an apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, whose Bishop Joseph Strickland has been in recent weeks the subject of controversy in the Church.
Several sources in the Tyler diocese confirmed the visitation to The Pillar on Saturday, after rumors surfaced on social media, and the visitation was reported on the Church Militant website.
An apostolic visitation is an official review of diocesan leadership and governance, usually convened at the behest of a Vatican congregation.
One priest interviewed said the visitation’s questions focused on Strickland’s administrative leadership in the diocese, rather than on his outsized social media personality.
“It was not even primarily about his ‘rants’ about Pope Francis,” said the priest, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
“The questions really focused on years of governance issues, which have had us priests concerned. We had two finance officers removed before their five year terms were expired, and that’s not typical at all.”
Strickland, 64, has been Bishop of Tyler since 2012; he was before that a priest of the same diocese.
In recent years, Strickland has been critical of Pope Francis, and was during the coronavirus pandemic outspoken in his criticism of the Holy See’s approach to vaccines, urging a more stringent position than the Vatican’s on ethical questions surrounding vaccine testing and embryonic cell lines.
Last month, Strickland tweeted that he “rejects” Pope Francis’ “program undermining the Deposit of Faith.”
That tweet garnered considerable controversy online.
This month, the bishop led a June 16 prayer rally at L.A.’s Dodger Stadium, in protest of the Dodgers’ recognition of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an LGBT group which has performed anti-Catholic drag shows that several bishops have called blasphemous.
While the rally reportedly drew thousands, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the leadership of the U.S. bishops’ conference had distanced themselves from it, urging instead that Los Angeles Catholics attend a Mass in the archdiocesan cathedral, and make prayers of spiritual reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Acknowledging the bishop’s penchant for controversy, one source close to Strickland told The Pillar that the bishop is confident about the visitation.
“The bishop doesn’t want to make too big of a deal of it,” the source said. “He’s got vocations, the diocese is doing well financially, so by all the numbers, he’s doing very well.”
“He’s not trying to make too big a deal of it,” the source added.
But a priest who was questioned during the visitation said that interviewers “were already asking questions about who might be a good fit to replace [Strickland].”
Still, it is not clear when the bishops who conducted the visitation —reportedly Bishop Gerald Kicanas, emeritus of Tucscon, and Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden — will file a report with the Dicastery for Bishops, nor when the dicastery might reach a decision about its outcome.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Tyler told The Pillar on Saturday that the diocese had no comment on the visitation.
The Diocese of Tyler was erected in 1986, and consists of 55,000 Catholics in 33 counties of eastern Texas. Strickland is the fourth bishop of the diocese.