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Strickland not 'barred' from offering Mass, sources say

Bishop Joseph Strickland has not been banned from publicly celebrating Mass in his former Diocese of Tyler, Texas, sources in the diocese have confirmed.

Bishop Joseph Strickland blesses Catholics at a rosary gathering outside the November 2023 U.S. bishops’ meeting. Credit: JD Flynn/Pillar Media.

The bishop, who was removed as head of the Tyler diocese last month by Pope Francis, was asked to consider temporarily refraining from publicly celebrating Mass, sources said, but not prohibited from public celebrations of the Mass.

The Pillar has confirmed that Strickland has celebrated Mass privately in the diocese since his removal. 

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Reports surfaced online Thursday that Strickland had been formally banned from publicly saying Mass in his former diocese.

The website Lifesite reported Dec. 7 that diocesan staff had been told Strickland was “banned” entirely from saying Mass in the diocese.

Citing a “known” source in the diocese, Lifesite did not report who issued the supposed ban — presumably either the apostolic administrator of the diocese, Bishop Joe Vasquez, or the Holy See— and said it could not confirm if Strickland had been made aware of it. 

But The Pillar confirmed Thursday that in a meeting of diocesan staff and clergy, Vasquez explained that Strickland had been asked to temporarily limit his public presence in the diocese, including the celebration of public Masses, amid a transition that has proven difficult for some east Texas Catholics.

One Catholic present at the meeting said that Strickland had been “encouraged” to temporarily refrain from offering Mass in the Tyler diocese.

Vasquez also said during the meeting that Strickland will see ongoing support from the diocese and be treated by the diocese as an emeritus bishop. 

Strickland lives in a Church-owned residence in the Tyler diocese, but is reportedly planning to move from the area, in part to allow his eventual successor room to lead the diocese, sources told The Pillar.

The bishop told The Pillar last month that he did not want to be a “distraction” in his former diocese, or cause division among Catholics over his presence there.

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In a canonically rare step, Pope Francis removed Bishop Strickland as the Bishop of Tyler in a decision announced Nov. 11.

Strickland, 65 and 10 years below the customary retirement age for diocesan bishops, has been a vocal critic of the Church’s direction under Pope Francis, often expressing criticisms of the pope on social media.

The bishop’s removal from office came two months after The Pillar reported that senior cardinals had recommended to Pope Francis that Strickland be pressured to resign leadership of his see following an apostolic visitation of the Tyler diocese earlier this year.

In the months before that, the bishop had taken to twitter.com to take issue with the pope’s governance of the Church. 

In a May post, the bishop said that he believed that Pope Francis is the pope, “but it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith.”

Speaking after Strickland’s removal, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who has oversight of the Diocese of Tyler as it belongs to the ecclesiastical province of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said that Francis had ordered “an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler.”

“As a result of the visitation, the recommendation was made to the Holy Father that the continuation in office of Bishop Strickland was not feasible,” the cardinal said.

DiNardo said that the decision to remove the bishop had come “after months of careful consideration by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Holy Father,” and that “the decision was reached that the resignation of Bishop Strickland should be requested.” 

“Having been presented with that request on Nov. 9, 2023, Bishop Strickland declined to resign from office. Thereafter, on Nov. 11, 2023, the Holy Father removed Bishop Strickland from the office of Bishop of Tyler,” said DiNardo.

Strickland’s removal came just days before the US bishops met in Baltimore for their annual autumn plenary assembly which the bishop did not attend as a former diocesan bishop.

Instead, Strickland stood outside the conference hotel where the bishops’ were meeting, praying with and addressing supporters. 

Strickland told The Pillar that he was “not yearning for another position,” and that he “hopes to follow God's will” in the next stage of his life.

He emphasized fidelity to the teachings and leadership of the Church.

“We believe in Jesus Christ and we love his Church. That's why I'm here. Not for me, not for any other reason, not to have some movement.”

“I’ve said it before, and I'll say it again,” Strickland told The Pillar. “Yes, Pope Francis is the pope. We have to respect his authority. But there are a lot of people around him, some that he's chosen to be around him, who say: ‘Oh, Holy Father, let's do this. Let's do that.’ 

“I pray that Pope Francis listens to the truth of the ages, the tradition of our faith, with the Holy Spirit guiding us, not away from the truth, but deeper into it.”

The Diocese of Tyler told The Pillar Thursday that it would not comment on rumors that Strickland had been barred from offering Mass.

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