If Texas Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is known outside of his diocese for anything, it’s for controversy.
The conservative firebrand, who oversees the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, has sparked backlash from critics for everything from voicing support for priests who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to offering a prayer at a “Jericho March” event in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. More recently, Strickland challenged Pope Francis, announcing on his Twitter feed that he believes the pontiff is “undermining the Deposit of Faith.” His efforts have inspired some detractors to call for Strickland’s resignation, while others have urged Vatican intervention.
But according to multiple sources, Strickland has already been on the receiving end of the Vatican’s ire for more than a year: He was chastised by a representative of the Holy See in 2021, they say — a move that simultaneously signals the potential for formal Vatican disciplinary action and exemplifies the difficulty of reining in a controversial cleric.
The revelation came last week during a broadcast of the Terry and Jesse Show, a program that regularly features Strickland as a guest and airs on Virgin Most Powerful Radio, a conservative-leaning Catholic outlet. While discussing blowback to Strickland’s recent tweets, co-host Terry Barber described an occasion where Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador, allegedly approached Strickland at a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to Barber, Pierre, known as the papal nuncio, “wagged his finger” at Strickland while saying “Bishop Strickland, we’re watching you — stop talking about the deposit of faith.”
“(Strickland) doesn’t really care,” Barber said of the alleged encounter. “It’s the truth that sets us free. If he goes down because he’s speaking the truth, oh well.”
A separate source who is familiar with the meeting but who chose to remain anonymous, as they have not been given permission to discuss the matter publicly, told Religion News Service the incident took place in November 2021 at the annual USCCB meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The source said the nuncio specifically confronted Strickland about his Twitter feed, which had garnered controversy at the time for, among other things, posts that opposed the three major COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the U.S. at the time.