On 11 November 2023, the Holy See announced that Pope Francis had removed Bishop Joseph E Strickland from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Tyler in the United States, and appointed the bishop of Austin, Joe Vásquez, as apostolic administrator of the now-vacant diocese. The main reason for the removal is thought to be a lack of communion with the other bishops of the United States. Now, if the attitude of Bishop Strickland appeared “divisive” to the Holy See, it is because the bishop of Tyler has the great merit of not having remained silent on the profound crisis of the Church. He was not a “dumb dog not able to bark” (Is 56:11), like those unfaithful shepherds of whom Sacred Scripture speaks.
A few days before his removal, Bishop Strickland had received a request to resign on his own initiative, as has become standard practice. The American bishop, considering the causes of his removal to be unjust, refused to resign. He was within his right and did well to exercise it. The same had been done by the venerable József Mindszenty (1892–1975), relieved of his duties as primate of Hungary in 1973 for refusing to support the Ostpolitik of Paul VI.
Yet Strickland recognised the authority of Pope Francis, refusing to follow the advice of those American conservatives and/or traditionalists who were inciting him to defy the pontiff’s decision. These bad advisers demonstrate their ignorance of the First Vatican Council’s article of faith:
“[W]e teach and declare that by the appointment of our Lord the Roman Church possesses a superiority of ordinary power over all other churches, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate; to which all, of whatever rite and dignity, both pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world.”
Pastor aeternus, chapter 3
Can. 331 of the Code of Canon Law currently in force, in keeping with the dogma of faith of Vatican I, states that, “by virtue of his office, [the pope] possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.” And can. 333 §3 establishes that “no appeal or recourse is permitted against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff.”
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