The Times is taking notice.
This year alone, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, has accused the pope of undermining the Catholic faith, has suggested that other Vatican officials have veered so far from church teaching that they are no longer Catholic, and has warned that a landmark global gathering that opens this week at the Vatican could threaten “basic truths” of Catholic doctrine.
With a savvy instinct for inserting himself into theological disputes and culture-war dust-ups across the country, Bishop Strickland has become a leading voice in the emboldened traditionalist wing of American Catholicism.
Now, he is at the center of what is shaping up to be an unusually personal clash in an escalating conflict between Pope Francis and American conservatives: The Vatican, in a relatively rare move, has investigated the bishop’s leadership and is reported to be privately considering asking for his resignation. The bishop, in a rarer one, has publicly refused.
“I cannot resign as Bishop of Tyler because that would be me abandoning the flock that I was given charge of by Pope Benedict XVI,” he wrote in an open letter to Catholics in his diocese in September. He said that he would comply if the pope removes him from office.
The conflict poses a delicate challenge for the Vatican, given Bishop Strickland’s popularity among conservative Catholics. Many see him as standing up for their values in the face of secular culture and a dangerously liberal Catholic hierarchy. Bishop Strickland has a weekly radio show, and more than 145,000 followers on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter — vastly more than most Catholic church leaders and more than twice the number of Catholics in his diocese.
He speaks at conferences across the country and posts prolifically on social media on topics ranging from the ethics of Covid-19 vaccines (which he has questioned) to the Latin Mass favored by traditionalists (and discouraged by Pope Francis) to local conflicts between priests and bishops.
This makes Bishop Strickland, 64, an unusual figure within the Roman Catholic church. He is a clergyman charged by the Vatican with leading one of the country’s nearly 200 geographically defined dioceses — in this case, a rather small and remote one in East Texas. But he is also a free-ranging provocateur who is nationally known for his brazen rhetorical attacks on Pope Francis…
… In an interview that streamed live on YouTube on Friday, Bishop Strickland compared himself to an English bishop — now a saint — who was beheaded in the 16th century for resisting King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. “I don’t necessarily want to volunteer to lose my head,” he said, “but I’d honestly rather lose my head than lose my faith.”