While the U.S. bishops’ conference met Wednesday for their annual plenary meeting in Baltimore, dozens of Catholics gathered outside the conference hotel, to pray a rosary with the recently deposed Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was removed Saturday from leadership of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.
While Strickland was removed from his diocesan post by Pope Francis after an investigation into his leadership, the bishop is not prohibited from attending meetings of the USCCB, but chose this week not to attend.
Instead, as the meetings unfolded in the early part of the week, Strickland prayed the rosary most days on the sidewalk outside the meeting, and met with supporters — while inside, his removal from office was a topic of informal discussion among bishops, many of whom raised questions about the process for removing him, and about the Vatican’s unwillingness to specify the reasons for its decision.
Strickland has been an outspoken critic of Pope Francis in recent years — a factor that may have contributed to his ouster — and at the same time, has built a large following of Catholics on social media, especially twitter.com.
While it is not clear what the Apostolic See expected when Strickland was ousted, the move has led to an outcry of support from a swath of American Catholics, many of whom say that Strickland is uniquely courageous among bishops, or uniquely committed to speaking truth.
During the USCCB’s lunch hour Wednesday, Strickland led a large group of Catholics in praying the rosary outside the bishops’ conference.
But why did they come? The Pillar decided to ask.
We came to the rally first and foremost to support Bishop Strickland for his faithful shepherding. Unfortunately he’s getting punished for being a faithful shepherd to us Catholics. And to pray the rosary with him in front of the conference of bishops, may they gain the courage to faithfully shepherd us Catholics to eternal life in heaven — and we’re also here to pray the rosary for life.
Ellicott City, Maryland
I stand with Bishop Strickland because I’ve personally met him and prayed with him, and I’ve been to his Mass, and he is a very holy and reverent man of God who is only speaking the truth, and he is trying to help the flock in these confusing times — he is trying to speak the truth.
Colonia Beach, Virginia
The reason I came out is in support of Bishop Strickland — he’s got to be one of the most fantastic bishops I have ever met. I met him two years ago. He came out here two years ago — he’s the only bishop we could get to pray the rosary with us, and knelt down on the brick for 45 minutes, leading the most beautiful rosary I’ve ever heard. He was yanked from being a bishop in Tyler, Texas for — I’d say — for telling the truth … for preaching the truth.
Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
I’m here to support the bishop. I believe in what he does. I am sorry about what happened to him. I don’t know the whole story, but I want to support him.
Mary Susan Grayson
I came to see Bishop Strickland and to support him. He speaks the truth. He’s a very holy and very good priest, and I don’t know why, but this just seems to annoy the hierarchy.
Fr. James Altman
Suspended priest, Wisconsin
What outlet [are you from]? The Pillar? No.
No. No. And you know why. We’re done. We’re done. JD, we’re done.
I came out to support Bishop Strickland and to pray the rosary. He’s one of our bishops back home, he’s vocal about the truth, and the state of the Church now, and the powers that do want to change it — and so I do agree — while remaining humble, following one of our bishops, and not judging any hierarchy of the Church — with his message. I do stand firm with him, and so I had to come out for him.
Sr. Dede Byrne
Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
I came because Our Lady’s rosary is a powerful weapon, and I feel that we need all the help we can in our Church. I’m here with many, many friends that came to support a very good bishop, who I feel is a very good friend of mine, Bishop Strickland.
I think people here are concerned about why he was removed. It’s a question mark, and we don’t have the answer yet. Really, who are we to know the answer? But we pray for all our priests, we pray for all our bishops. We pray, especially by name, for those who are standing strong, like Bishop Strickland, Schneider, Cordileone, Vigano, Byrne, Coffey — that’s our little mantra.
We love our Church. We are just little; our mission is to pray. So that’s why we’re here to pray and support all the bishops … Bishop Strickland says that we all need prayers, and we should pray for all bishops to stay strong.
You know, I see Bishop Strickland as St. John. You know, there were 12 apostles, one denied him, and one stayed at the foot of the cross, and that’s Bishop Strickland.
Bishop Joseph Strickland
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 ask and pray that people go deeper into the Church, not try to set up a different one. I mean, that's not what we're about.
I ask people to go deeper into the Sacred Heart of Christ, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
I've given probably 1,000 blessings — well, not that many, but a lot of blessings — and I say the same thing: the consecration to the Sacred Heart through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. That's why I'm here.
The Pillar: How do you feel when people say they’re here to support you?
Well, it's a little embarrassing actually, because I'm here for him — for Jesus.
But people need the voice of these men, [the bishops]. They need that voice.
To be silent — that's not what Jesus said. Jesus said to go out into the world and teach all nations.
He didn't say to be quiet and walk around, and say, ‘Well, if somebody happens to come up and wants to know about Jesus, we'll secretly, kind of quietly, tell you.’
He said, ‘No, proclaim the good news.’
So yeah, I'm out of sync with my time, but I'm going to stick with Jesus.
The Pillar: What do you hope for the future? Do you think you could have an assignment in the future, or even a diocese? Is that what you hope for?
I hope to follow God's will. As to what that is … I mean, I’m not yearning for another position.
I'm a bishop. I didn't ask for that, but I received it and I take it very seriously.
But whatever happens, I mean, I pray for Pope Francis and the cardinals in the Vatican to just embrace Jesus Christ more fully.
I’ve said it before, and I'll say it again. 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 Pillar: But of course, you read in Rome last month from a letter which called Pope Francis a ‘usurper’ to the chair of Peter. If you insist that Francis is the pontiff, was that the right decision? Why did you make it?
Well, I didn’t write it. But I thought it was important to share because of the confusion. I don’t want to accuse the Holy Father of anything, but the world is confused.
He’s the pope. He can answer the dubia. He can cut through the confusion with a statement that says: ‘This is what we believe.’ And that’s frustrating because, for whatever reasons, he’s not doing that. So we pray for the Holy Father.
The Petrine office is woven into the life of the Church — sedevacantists and all of that, that’s ridiculous. I mean, we don’t need another Protestant Reformation. We need a stronger Catholic Church.
We can't change the truth because people are walking away. We have to help them know the truth.