Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas said Wednesday that a Vatican-ordered review of his leadership was undertaken last month because of his willingness to “preach the truth,” adding that it is possible he could be removed from his post as a diocesan bishop.
The bishop compared the apostolic visitation to a visit to a school principal’s office, while adding that he believes he has led his diocese well.
“I think that I went through this because I’ve been bold enough, and loved the Lord enough and his Church, simply preaching the truth,” Strickland said during an episode of the “Bishop Strickland Radio Hour,” which was recorded July 19, and will air on the Virgin Most Powerful Radio network next week.
Speaking with Terry Barber, the cohost of Strickland’s weekly radio show, the bishop said that while an apostolic visitation was conducted last month “very quietly,” it subsequently “made the news and people were aware of it.”
An apostolic visitation is an official review of diocesan leadership and governance, usually convened at the behest of a Vatican congregation.
In the July 19 recording since posted to YouTube, Strickland said that the review has been “not fun” for him.
“I kind of compare it to being called to the principal’s office, this apostolic visitation,” he added.
While Strickland said that bishops dispatched to the diocese were “looking at everything,” he emphasized that in his view, it was “preaching the truth” that prompted the visitation.
Strickland, 64, has been Bishop of Tyler since 2012; he was before that a priest of the same diocese.
The bishop has long been celebrated by many leaders in the pro-life movement, for his outspoken defense of human life, and opposition to abortion.
The bishop is a frequent user of Twitter, with more than 135,000 followers.
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.
In May, Strickland tweeted that he “rejects” Pope Francis’ “program undermining the Deposit of Faith.”
That tweet garnered considerable controversy online, with Strickland noting in his July 19 remarks that he has faced a social media backlash.
But while Strickland’s remarks argued that the apostolic visitation he’s faced is connected to his teaching ministry, sources in the Tyler diocese have told The Pillar that there are also administrative concerns among the diocesan presbyterate.
Those concerns, sources have told The Pillar, include the governance of a diocesan high school, considerable staff turnover in the diocesan curia, the bishop’s welcome of a controversial former religious sister as a high school employee, and the bishop’s support for “Veritatis Splendor” — a planned Catholic residential community in the diocese, which flamed out amid controversy involving its leadership’s financial administration and personal conduct.
In his July 19 remarks, Strickland acknowledged that in his diocese, “there have been some administrative issues, and I’m sure people are concerned.”
While he did not delineate those issues, he acknowledged that “I’m sure there are people saying that there must be something really bad, and something’s really gone wrong for this apostolic visitation to happen.“
But the bishop expressed confidence in his administrative leadership.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” Strickland said. “The finances are in order, we have a great finance team, development is strong, we have a good number of seminarians. And I go to the different parishes, celebrating confirmation, the people are very welcoming. They say they’re praying for me.”
Strickland nevertheless acknowledged that the outcome of the visitation is uncertain.
“You see things on Twitter [saying] ... ‘Bishop Strickland’s on the way out,’” the bishop said. “Maybe they’re right.”
“But the reality is that I’m happy serving a shepherd of the Diocese of Tyler. I consider it an honor that I don’t take for granted. It’s a lot of challenges. I have made mistakes, but the goodness of the people and the grace of God have allowed us to do some really good things.”
Since the apostolic visitation in Tyler was reported last month, there has been considerable debate and commentary on the subject among U.S. Catholics. Some Catholics — among them both Strickland’s supporters and detractors — have said the bishop’s outspoken commentary on Church issues has likely put him in the spotlight of Vatican officials.
Some of Strickland’s supporters have said the visitation in Tyler seems to them like a political move.
For his part, Strickland said that in his view, the visitation was really about “the truth of our faith.”
“Really, it isn’t about me, but it’s about the truth of our faith … I’m a sinner, I make mistakes, but the diocese is really in good shape, not because of me but by the grace of God and the goodness of the people,” he said.
“I love being a priest — and I'm a very imperfect priest. I mean, there are many more talented priests and bishops than I am. Better theologians, better homilists, better everything,” he said.
“But I would put my love for the Lord and his Church against anyone’s, because that's what we're called to,” he added.
“You know, people will always go after me, and say this guy’s just promoting himself. I’m really not … the world tries to stop the message of Jesus Christ, but when we have our feet on the ground and by the grace of God … I know that I’m no great anything — I’m not a great theologian — I’m no great … anything, but I am a great lover of Jesus Christ and his Church,” he said.
“And I’m willing to go through anything [that] I have to, to continue to proclaim that message, because love for God’s people means we share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
“And the sad thing is that too many people are bringing a false message that is harmful to the world, and to the Mystical Body of Christ that is the Church,” Strickland added.
“But the false message will never prevail. It will never destroy the faith of the people who know their faith and are strong in faith. Sadly, there are too many that aren’t well-catechized, and they’re easily deluded by false gospels that are out there,” he said.
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.
It is not clear when the bishops who conducted the visitation —reportedly Bishop Gerald Kicanas, emeritus of Tucson, 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.
The diocese has not commented directly on the investigation.
But Strickland suggested Wednesday that no matter the outcome, he expects to continue his public role in the Church’s life.
“They won’t stop me,” he said.
“When we’re speaking the truth of Jesus Christ, there is no politically correct. And the world can try to shut us down, but it won’t work.”