A Steadfast Bishop Unafraid to Challenge Consensus

In 2018 Bishop Joseph Strickland, who led the diocese of Tyler, in Texas, stuck his head above the parapet at a gathering of the United States Bishops’ Conference, 46 days after the Washington Post broke the story of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s now well-known depravity.

He asked: “How did that happen? If we really believe that what was going on was wrong, how did he get promoted? There seem to be questions about that, and I think we have to face that directly. Do we believe the doctrine of the Church or not?”

In 2019 Strickland stood up again, challenging Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego’s seamless-garment approach to life issues which set up an artificial battle between the conference and the Holy Father.

McElroy took issue with language stating that the threat of abortion remained a pre-eminent priority and described such language as being “discordant” if not “inconsistent” with Pope Francis’s teaching.

In response to McElroy’s emphasis on what Cardinal Víctor Manual Fernández, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, has called “the present magisterium”, Strickland said: “I absolutely think pre-eminence needs to stay.”

In 2022, Pope Francis made Bishop McElroy a cardinal; in 2023 he dismissed Bishop Strickland from his diocese, for “administrative” reasons. Whatever the motives behind his removal, however, his attempted side-lining seems to have had the opposite effect. When we met, I asked Strickland how faithful Catholics could make sense of a pastoral approach that often appears incoherent.

“There is a lot of contradiction and confusion,” he said, “which is not of Christ. It’s not what the Church’s role is. Christ is the light of the world, and we need light to be able to see, for humanity to see the truth that is glorious and joyful and full of hope. But if we turn away from that light of Christ and gaze down and look just at the world, this explains at least some of what we are seeing. We are seeing the fruit of those who are looking horizontally and saying, ‘What are the answers?’ and ‘What did you discover?’ instead of looking up to the heavens, to the revealed truth that guides us in the light beyond lights that is Jesus Christ,” he continued.

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