NEW YORK – Although the exact purpose of the inquiry remains unclear, the Texas diocese led by perhaps the most publicly outspoken U.S. bishop in his criticism of Pope Francis is now the subject of a Vatican investigation.
Bishop Joseph Strickland and the Diocese of Tyler, which he leads, recently underwent an Apostolic Visitation, diocesan spokesperson Elizabeth Slaten confirmed to Crux, adding that the diocese has no further comment on the dates of the visitation, who led it, or what its purpose was.
An Apostolic Visitation is “an exceptional initiative of the Holy See which involves sending a Visitor or Visitors to evaluate an ecclesiastical institute,” such as a diocese, according to a definition by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its purpose, the definition continues, is “to assist the institute in question to improve the way in which it carries out its function in the life of the Church.”
Apostolic Visitations aren’t necessarily uncommon, but have led bishops to resign from their post at the request of the Vatican if wrongdoing is found. In the case of Strickland and the Diocese of Tyler, outside of the headlines he’s created with some of his comments and social media posts, the diocese hasn’t experienced major scandals or administrative breakdowns of the sort that often trigger visitations.
Strickland, 64, was appointed to lead the Diocese of Tyler in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, after decades there as a priest. The diocese covers 33 counties and 23,443 square miles of Northeast Texas. It has 52 parishes and 14 missions, and a total population of approximately 1.5 million, of which about 120,000 are Catholic, according to the Diocese of Tyler website.
Strickland himself, however, is about as outspoken as they come. A staunch conservative prelate, he has often garnered headlines and criticism – but also applause – for many of his statements and posts to his more than 125,000 Twitter followers. He also has a radio hour on Virgin Most Powerful Radio, and a website – bishopstrickland.com – where he posts a column and his tweets.
Strickland frequently posts on abortion and LGBTQ issues, and has also publicly stated his displeasure with aspects of the ongoing Synod of Synodality, and of aspects of Pope Francis pontificate. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, he also frequently denounced the COVID-19 vaccines as unethical in contradiction to the guidance Catholics received from Rome.
Just last week, he tweeted that “it is a travesty” that the topics of women deacons, priestly celibacy, and transgender issues were included on the Synod on Synondality document. And last month, he included in a tweet that while he acknowledges the authenticity of the pontiff, “It is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith.”
Strickland did not immediately respond to a Crux request for comment on the Apostolic Visitation.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg