On Saturday, November 11, Bishop Joseph Strickland was formally removed from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Tyler, Texas. The lawless process employed to remove him from office resembled a script from a gangster film.
The story began with an apostolic visitation ordered by the new prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, Archbishop Robert Prevost. Prevost, a Chicago native, served as a missionary in Peru. On September 26, 2015, Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Chiclayo (Northern Peru.) On November 21, 2020, Francis appointed Prevost as a member of the Congregation for the Bishops upon the recommendation of Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.
The visitation was conducted by Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson in June of this year.
Bishop Sullivan gained national attention in 2014 when his diocese purchased a The New Jersey diocese purchased a 7,000 square foot mansion with eight bedrooms and six bathrooms. In 2020, Sullivan’s diocese filed for bankruptcy protection as a result of sexual abuse claims and later agreed to an $87 million payout in 2022.
Bishop Kicanas of Tuscon was formerly an appointed an auxiliary bishop in Chicago under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Kicanas was head of Catholic Relief Services in 2012 when they were funding pro-abortion pro-abortion groups. In 2010, Kicanas lost his bid to become president of the USCCB due to his radical position on several issues.
US Papal Nuncio Archbishops Christophe Pierre and Robert Prevost,head of the Dicastery for Bishops, met with Pope Francis in September to discuss the removal of Bishop Strickland. Both men were promoted to be cardinals later that month by Pope Francis.
Christophe Pierre is a French prelate who was named as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States in 2016. Pierre reportedly threatened Bishop Strickland at the USCCB fall meeting in 2021, “wagged his finger” at Strickland while saying “Bishop Strickland, we’re watching you — stop talking about the deposit of faith.” Pierre has also recently come under fire for disparaging comments regarding cassocks and the Traditional Latin Mass.
Pope Francis dropped the hammer on Bishop Strickland on Saturday, November 11, issuing a terse statement on the Vatican’s website announcing Strickland’s removal and the appointment of an apostolic administrator. The Vatican announcement did not provide a reason for the bishop’s removal. Strickland reportedly was not inform of his removal until he read the statement on Saturday morning.
Galveston-Houston Archbishop Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issued a statement later the same day stating that “continuation in office of Bishop Strickland was not feasible.” DiNardo serves as the metropolitan bishop responsible for dealing with governance matters in several Texas dioceses, including Tyler.
Per Canon 416, a diocesan see is normally made vacant by the bishop resigning, transferring, dying, or having a “privation” made known to him by the Pope. The Pope’s ability to remove a diocesan bishop is not without many restrictions: indeed, he can only issue a “privation” on the bishop exercising his office by following the precise and exacting confines of Canon Law.
The respected Canonist Edward Peters has outlined that the commentaries on Canon 416 he examined all “regard a bishop’s ‘privation’ of office as being possible only in the face of guilt for ecclesiastical crimes (say, canonically illegal actions in regard to ecclesiastical property, contra cc. 1377 or 1389).”
Peters notes that the Pope does not appear to have the power to “remove” a bishop under Canon 416, but that a “privation” is indeed possible. He writes: “While ‘removal’ is a general way to lose ecclesiastical office (cc. 184, 192-195) not necessarily implying canonically criminal conduct, ‘removal’ from episcopal office does not, strictly speaking, seem possible under Canon 416, only privation (c. 196) seems possible, and such action implies guilt for ecclesiastical crimes.”
Gangster Movie Parallels
The story of Bishop Strickland’s ouster has many parallels to a gangster film, including a mob boss, a Mafia organization, lawless criminal activities and a revenge plot with a violent climax. Some young, enterprising Hollywood filmmaker may be already working on it! However, we believe most faithful Catholics would likely consider this to be a horror film instead of a gangster movie.