Fr. Gerald Murray: Bishop Strickland’s Removal Was Against Canon Law

The removal of Msgr. Strickland from the leadership of the diocese by Pope Francis, took place without a trial, in violation of canonical norms. Msgr. Torres received the same treatment in 2022. As Saint John Paul II explained, this is contrary to charity and natural justice.

The Holy See Press Office’s Summary of Bulletin on November 11 contained this announcement under the heading “Resignations and Appointments”: “The Holy Father has removed Bishop Joseph E. Strickland from the pastoral care of the diocese of Tyler, United States of America, and has appointed Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin as apostolic administrator of the same diocese, rendering it sede vacante.” The placement of this announcement under this incorrect heading – the removal of a bishop is not a resignation – is noteworthy.

The same incorrect heading was used in the March 9, 2022 announcement of the removal of Bishop Daniel Fernandez Torres from the pastoral care of the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Press Office is obviously not accustomed to categorizing announcements concerning the removal of a bishop, which is a rare, but not unknown, act. Privation from office is provided for in the Code of Canon Law. It is the result of a judicial process, or of an administrative procedure initiated to examine and render judgment upon a well-founded suspicion that a canonical crime was committed by a particular bishop.  In the cases of both Bishop Strickland and Bishop Fernandez Torres neither of these two possible canonical proceedings was used by the Holy See.

Canon 416 states that the “episcopal see becomes vacant… by deprivation notified to the bishop.” Canon 196 states that “[d]eprivation of office, that is, as a punishment for an offence, may be effected only in accordance with the law. Deprivation takes effect in accordance with the provisions of the canons concerning penal law.” The commentary in the Code of Canon Law Annotated, 4th Edition states that “[d]eprivation is the loss of an ecclesiastical office as a penalty for an offence; it is judicially or administratively imposed on the completion of a penal process or a penal administrative procedure (cf. c. 1336, 4, 1). Therefore, privation is a special type of removal; its efficacy and limits are subject to penal law.”

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