Defiance, denial, disconcertion…

Reaction Roundup: Semi-Trads Lose It after Francis Pulls the Plug on Strickland

Unless you were under a rock the past three days, chances are you’ve heard about 65-year-old ‘Bishop’ Joseph Edward Strickland of Tyler, Texas, being removed from his post by Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentinian apostate currently occupying the Vatican guest house under the stage name ‘Pope Francis’. We blogged about it when it on Saturday:

It was a given that this development, not unexpected, would generate a tidal wave of reactions, and so it has. In the above-linked post, which focused on the news of Strickland’s forced retirement, we noted that we would leave a round-up of reactions with commentary for another post. That’s what the present article is for.

All in all, we can say that the reactions so far have been fairly predictable. Support for, and opposition to, Francis’ removal of Strickland have been voiced pretty much along ideological lines, that is. But while it is one thing to express approval or disapproval of a ‘papal’ decision, it is quite another to question or deny a Pope’s power to do what Francis did. Yet, some semi-trads — our moniker for traditionalists who embrace a recognize-and-resist position instead of Sedevacantism — have done even that, as we will see shortly.

Strickland Himself Reacts

First, let’s mention Bp. Strickland‘s own reaction. He was interviewed by John-Henry Westen of Life Site shortly after his dismissal became public. Here is the full 29-minute video:

Since the Vatican has not told Strickland the reason(s) why he has been removed, he is left to speculate about the matter. He believes that the ‘Pope’ and his henchmen want to change Church doctrine and teach contrary to the Gospel, and he was an obstacle in their way. Either way, Strickland’s recent appearances as a speaker at the so-called Catholic Identity Conference and the Rome Life Forum surely hastened Bergoglio’s decision to kick the Tyler ordinary to the curb.

On Twitter/X, Strickland deleted his @BishopOfTyler account and now uses his alternate account instead, @BishStrickland.

Strickland’s Supporters React

At The Remnant, Michael Matt rushed to declare: “This is total war. Francis is a clear and present danger not only to Catholics the world over but also to the whole world itself. It appears now that he is actively trying to bury fidelity to the Church of Jesus Christ. If this is so, let him be anathema.”

Nothing says “I believe in the traditional Catholic teaching on the Papacy” quite as much as anathematizing the Pope and declaring him to be a danger to the Faith and to souls. Impressive, Mr. Matt!

The folks at the Rorate Caeli blog quipped (tragically, not without justification): “If only Bishop Strickland had been a member of Uncle Ted McCarrick’s clique of abusers of minors, or used bodily fluids in chalices (Rupnik) after raping sisters, he might have been named a Cardinal by Francis…” Alas, such are the facts in 2023 AD.

Timothy Flanders at One Peter Five denounced Francis’ removal of Strickland as an exercise of raw, arbitrary power, the very “definition of the spirit of Vatican I”. The phrase ‘spirit of Vatican I’ is something he or one of his associates came up with as a rhetorical tool to aid in their deconstruction of papal authority as taught in the magisterium of the Popes (both before and after Vatican I, we might add). One Peter Five has been busy “rethinking the Papacy” in order to squeeze Francis into it somehow, but more on that later.

Of course it didn’t take long for the Kazakh auxiliary Athanasius Schneider, the most significant of insignificant Novus Ordo bishops, to weigh in: Condemning Francis’ decision as a “blatant injustice”, he hailed Strickland as an “Athanasius of the Church in the USA”, drawing a parallel, as he likes to do, with the Arian crisis of the fourth century.

The former Vatican nuncio to the United States currently in hiding, ‘Abp.’ Carlo Maria Viganò, took to Twitter/X to denounce Bergoglio’s actions as ‘tyranny’ and him as a ‘subverter’.

Strickland, Bergoglio, and Papal Power

In terms of justice or at least charity, it is surely an outrage if a Catholic bishop gets removed by the Pope with no public accusations against him, no canonical trial, and no reasons given for his removal at all. Even common courtesy would call for at least some explanation. A legalist might say that Strickland was fired because he had refused to resign, which the Vatican had requested him to do two days before announcing his removal. But such an answer merely shifts the question from, Why was he removed? to, Why was he asked to resign? The Vatican simply has not explained why Joseph Strickland could no longer be the shepherd over the flock of Tyler, Texas. Since removing a bishop from a diocese is a most rare and unusual step that is usually taken only as a punishment for serious wrongdoing, it is only natural to want an explanation as to the reason why the bishop is being punished in this way.

On the day of Strickland’s firing, the metropolitan over Tyler, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who once rented out his co-cathedral to Methodists for ‘ordinations’, released a public statement in which he ‘clarified’ that asking Strickland to resign had been the recommendation given to Francis by the two bishops he (Francis) himself had appointed to lead “an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership” of Strickland and the diocese. But once again, no reason was given as to why the investigation had yielded this recommendation, why keeping the bishop in office was no longer feasible. In fact, Strickland says he was never even given a reason for the visitation! So much for ‘dialogue’ in the ‘Listening Church’. It looks like there wasn’t even a monologue.

In the Strickland case we can see just how Francis operates. He loves the confusion and obscurity his words and actions create, and the subsequent murmuring they inevitably encourage, which he can then denounce as the “terrorism of gossip”. Anyone who has been paying attention during the Bergoglian ‘pontificate’ (since 2013) knows very well that if there were a legitimate reason to treat Strickland in such reckless manner, Francis would have made sure it got preached from the housetops.

To our knowledge, Strickland was the only Novus Ordo bishop in the world who was outspoken against Francis and actively shepherded a diocese. All other episcopal critics of Francis are either retired, unemployed, or mere auxiliary bishops. Strickland was the only exception to them, and now he too is retired, or at least ‘removed’.

Bergoglio’s treatment of Strickland stinks to high heaven, of course. It sounds very much as if Francis commissioned his two ‘Apostolic visitors’ by telling them: “Please investigate the diocese of Tyler and find out that it is no longer feasible for Strickland to remain bishop there. I will take care of the rest.”

Of course there are those who claim that there were certain problems and irregularities in the management of the Tyler diocese, etc. That may or may not be true, but it would stand to reason that where human beings operate, there will be found something to criticize, something that is less than perfect, something that should be corrected. But then, that will be the case in any and every diocese, and that is simply not reasonable cause for the immediate and abrupt dismissal of a bishop, much less without any reasons given.

Besides, if Francis were such a stickler for diocesan perfection, he’d have to remove a lot of other bishops first. Rampant heresy, liturgical chaos, financial mismanagement, bankruptcy, sexual abuse cases, covering up for sexual predators, etc., can be investigated aplenty in dioceses around the world, especially in the United States. If this ‘Pope’ were truly concerned about keeping his dioceses on the straight and narrow, there would no doubt be endless and more fruitful opportunities for him outside of the 23,000 square miles in northeastern Texas.

What we have seen with ‘Pope’ Francis again and again is this: Progressives get coddled, protected, promoted, unless and until there is such public outrage that it is no longer feasible. The recent Rupnik case is a prime example, as well as the Zanchetta case. On the flip side, if a conservative practices a little of that parrhesia (bold frankness in speech) Bergoglio claims to love so much, he is generally axed fairly quickly, and rather unceremoniously. After roughly 10 years of this, only a fool could not figure out what motivates Francis to act in this way. (There seems to be one big exception to this rule is, and that is Bp. Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan. We could speculate as to why, but that’s not our topic now.)

Now charity, justice, decency, and courtesy are one thing; power is quite another. Although a Pope might commit sin by removing a bishop from his diocese without just cause, he would certainly have the power to do so. He possesses universal and immediate jurisdiction, as was taught dogmatically by the First Vatican Council in 1870:

If anyone thus speaks, that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world; or, that he possesses only the more important parts, but not the whole plenitude of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate, or over the churches altogether and individually, and over the pastors and the faithful altogether and individually: let him be anathema.

(Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Chapter 3; Denz. 1831.)

We have noticed that Vatican I is gradually being attacked more and more by semi-trads. This is done sometimes more, sometimes less openly. A new article at One Peter Five, for example, tries to drum up sympathy for the critics of Vatican I, including the excommunicated heretic Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890). Beware!

Losing the Faith is something that typically happens step by step, and it often begins (apparently) innocuously enough. At first it’s just a matter of wanting to broaden one’s horizon. Then it’s just trying to see things from a different perspective. Then it’s trying to be ‘intellectually honest’. Etc. Before you know it, Catholic dogma is put in doubt, and heresy has been committed. Here it is important to remember that “for formal heresy it is not required that a person give his assent [to the heresy] out of malice, or that he continue in obstinate rejection for a long time, or that he refuse to heed admonitions given him. Pertinacity here means true consent to recognized error, and this can proceed from weakness (e.g., from anger or other passion); it can be given in an instant, and does not presuppose an admonition disregarded” (Moral Theology, n. 829b).

More Reactions from Strickland’s Supporters

The award for dumbest possible headline on the Strickland drama goes to Brian McCall of Catholic Family News, who wrote: “The Dictator Pope Strikes Again: Francis Claims He Deposed Bishop Strickland”. Congratulations!

So Francis merely claimed he removed Strickland from office, huh? No, Mr. McCall, he actually did it. In the Catholic Church, a Pope has that kind of power. (Not that Francis is Pope, but McCall believes him to be.) That’s defined dogmatically by Vatican I. He doesn’t first have to check with his inferiors to see if they agree.

But McCall objects (although not, of course, without first mentioning “diabolical disorientation”):

The defenders of absolute papal authority, who forget that the pope is the Vicar of Christ but not Christ Himself, will no doubt immediately start proclaiming that the pope has the power to remove any bishop. Certainly that statement is true, but it is not complete. All authority on earth, including the highest authority, is limited by the divine and natural law. It is contrary to divine and natural law to inflict penalties when there has been no crime. Certainly, in a case of a close call, the pope should be given the benefit of the doubt in rendering judgment. This action is so blatant that there is no doubt to which we can give a benefit. This action, therefore, is illicit and invalid. Bishop Strickland should model himself on Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who maintained until his death that the alleged suspension a divinis and latae sententiae excommunication was invalid and of no effect. No human authority can impose a punishment where there is no crime. That is why the Archbishop continued his seminaries and continued to ordained [sic] priests, notwithstanding these declarations. He understood that law is at the service of justice and ecclesiastical authority is oriented toward the salvation of souls. Bishop Strickland should do likewise.

(underlining added)

Let’s see if McCall can quote a single theological manual or canon law book that states that if a Pope were to remove a bishop without just cause, the papal act would thereby automatically be rendered invalid. Good luck!

So McCall counsels Strickland to ignore his removal by the ‘Pope’ and simply continue on, just as Abp. Lefebvre did with regard to his suspension and excommunication. But is that truly the traditional Catholic thing to do? No, it is not. In fact, it puts McCall squarely under the condemnation of two Popes, as we will now see.

In his rejection of 101 errors of Paschal Quesnel (1634-1719), issued in 1713, Pope Clement XI included the following:

[CONDEMNED:] 91. The fear of an unjust excommunication should never hinder us from fulfilling our duty; never are we separated from the Church, even when by the wickedness of men we seem to be expelled from it, as long as we are attached to God, to Jesus Christ, and to the Church herself by charity.

[CONDEMNED:] 92. To suffer in peace an excommunication and an unjust anathema rather than betray truth, is to imitate St. Paul; far be it from rebelling against authority or of destroying unity.

(Pope Clement XI, Apostolic Constitution Unigenitus, errors nn. 91-92)

In 1873, when Pope Pius IX issued an encyclical refuting the false arguments of the Armenian schismatics, he observed that they

…follow the example of heretics of more recent times. They argue that the sentence of schism and excommunication pronounced against them by the Archbishop of Tyana, the Apostolic Delegate in Constantinople, was unjust, and consequently void of strength and influence. They have claimed also that they are unable to accept the sentence because the faithful might desert to the heretics if deprived of their ministration. These novel arguments were wholly unknown and unheard of by the ancient Fathers of the Church. For “the whole Church throughout the world knows that the See of the blessed Apostle Peter has the right of loosing again what any pontiffs have bound, since this See possesses the right of judging the whole Church, and no one may judge its judgment” [St. Gelasius, epistle 26, sect. 5]. The Jansenist heretics dared to teach such doctrines as that an excommunication pronounced by a lawful prelate could be ignored on a pretext of injustice. Each person should perform, as they said, his own particular duty despite an excommunication. Our predecessor of happy memory Clement XI in his constitution Unigenitus against the errors of Quesnell forbade and condemned statements of this kind.

These statements were scarcely in any way different from some of John Wyclif’s which had previously been condemned by the Council of Constance and [Pope] Martin V. Through human weakness a person could be unjustly punished with censure by his prelate. But it is still necessary, as Our predecessor St. Gregory the Great warned, “for a bishop’s subordinates to fear even an unjust condemnation and not to blame the judgment of the bishop rashly in case the fault which did not exist, since the condemnation was unjust, develops out of the pride of heated reproof” [Hom. 26 on the Gospels, sect. 6]. But if one should be afraid even of an unjust condemnation by one’s bishop, what must be said of those men who have been condemned for rebelling against their bishop and this Apostolic See and tearing to pieces as they are now doing by a new schism the seamless garment of Christ, which is the Church?

(Pope Pius IX, Encyclical Quartus Supra, n. 10; underlining added)

Far from anchoring people in traditional Catholicism, so-called Catholic Family News is leading people to imbibe very anti-traditional, anti-Catholic ideas!

Vatican I was clear that the Pope’s jurisdiction pertains not only to doctrine but also “to the discipline and government of the Church spread over the whole world”. What bishop rules over which diocese, and for how long, is a matter of Church government. Notice that Vatican I does not make the validity of papal jurisdictional acts dependent on whether the Pope sins in his decisions, yet that is what Brian McCall insinuated.

Back in 1773, Pope Clement XIV took the drastic step of suppressing the Society of Jesus, because he believed it to be necessary to avert greater evil. Many were unhappy with the decision, but the papal judgment stood — the Jesuits were suppressed. (They were later re-established by Pope Pius VII in 1814, but the fact that they had to be re-established shows that they had in truth been suppressed.) St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, was dismayed by the decree of suppression but accepted it without hesitation.

McCall has effectively made himself the Pope’s judge, the very thing that Catholic dogma absolutely forbids and renders impossible:

And since the Roman Pontiff is at the head of the universal Church by the divine right of apostolic primacy, We teach and declare also that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases pertaining to ecclesiastical examination recourse can be had to his judgment; moreover, that the judgment of the Apostolic See, whose authority is not surpassed, is to be disclaimed by no one, nor is anyone permitted to pass judgment on its judgment. Therefore, they stray from the straight path of truth who affirm that it is permitted to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than the Roman Pontiff.

(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1830; underlining added.)

McCall has apparently not understood that in the Catholic Church, it is we who get judged by the Pope, not the other way around:

Some people seem to have a really hard time understanding the words, “whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven” (Mt 16:19). Our Blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spoke them to St. Peter after promising him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and this power of the keys continues in perpetual succession in all true Popes until Christ returns.

Further on in his write-up, McCall suggests that if only enough prelates of the Vatican II Church would “refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of this unjust action, the Vatican will have no choice but to acknowledge the fait accompli. It is time to resist the tyrant dictator to his face.”

So, apparently the editor Catholic Family News wants a number of bishops to act not only as accusers, but also as judge and jury, of the Pope — presuming to render the judgment that the papal act of depriving Strickland of his office was not only morally wrong but altogether invalid, that is, without legal effect. Perhaps McCall thinks Bergoglio will then have the Vatican press office publish a statement along the lines of: “On account of my inferiors having judged my removal of Bishop Joseph Strickland of the diocese of Tyler to be invalid, I hereby withdraw my earlier decision and now declare it to have lacked validity and to have been of no effect. Bp. Strickland is still the lawful bishop of Tyler. Be it known that this present announcement, being issued in agreement with a handful of other bishops, is totally valid.”

To be clear: Francis didn’t “order” the removal of Strickland, as if it were something still waiting to be implemented by others. He declared him removed. If Francis is the Pope, then that declaration has legal effect immediately upon publication. It requires no one else to sign off on it, no one to give his consent, no one to review it and give it a thumbs-up, so to speak. He says it, and it is done.

This is something also not quite understood by Peter Kwasniewski, one of the semi-trads’ most popular theological sophists. He too has called for resistance. On Twitter/X, he published a thread entitled “Reasons why a bishop unjustly deposed should resist & remain in his office.” Among his arguments is the historical precedent of the Canadian Bp. Isidore Borecky, who refused to retire in 1986. But there is more to the story, and we have refuted Kwasniewski’s argument as part of this article.

In 1851, Pope Pius IX released the Apostolic Letter Multiplices Inter, in which he excoriates the Peruvian author Francisco de Paula González Vigil (1792-1875) for, among other things, “striv[ing] to induce those who hold the helm of public affairs to not obey the Roman Pontiff in those matters that relate to the appointment of episcopates and of bishops”, and for claiming “with unspeakable daring, that the Roman pontiffs and ecumenical councils have become detached from the limits of their power….” These words sound like they could have been written by Dr. Kwasniewski or Mr. McCall.

Why is it that so many self-styled ‘traditional Catholics’ have such a problem with the actual traditional Catholic positions? It is because, for one reason or another, they all want to avoid concluding that Francis is a false pope! But is this intellectually honest? Does it help in the pursuit of truth?

Meanwhile, the Rev. John Beal, a canon lawyer from the so-called Catholic University of America, is arguing that Strickland’s removal ought not to be understood as punishment for wrongdoing at all but merely as a neutral administrative matter: “…the removal does not, of itself, entail any wrongdoing. It’s just … a pastoral judgment that the ministry had become detrimental or ineffective in that particular place”, the Jesuit rag America reports him as saying.

No doubt, all this has nothing to do with Strickland’s outspoken opposition to the ‘Pope’, it’s just a more or less coincidental personnel shuffle in northeastern Texas that Francis decided to occupy himself with. The situation was apparently found to be so dire that the flock there had to be protected from Strickland’s influence without delay; and so he was canceled immediately, without a successor having been chosen yet. In fact, the danger was so great that the Vatican didn’t even have time to inform the bishop as to why he was being removed — talk about urgent!

A somewhat different take was given by another canon lawyer, the Rev. Gerald Murray, in an interview conducted by Robert Royal for The Catholic Thing.

Writer Joshua Charles took to Twitter/X to give people comfort on account of a prophesied Passion of the Church that would occur before Christ returns in glory, something echoed a bit by Kevin Wells at Crisis Magazine.

But while the general concept of such a Mystical Passion is legitimate and orthodox, we must be careful not to use this concept to circumvent Catholic doctrine on the Papacy. The Church’s Passion cannot contradict God’s promises because it would mean that God is not faithful to His Word, which would be impossible, and a blasphemy to assert. We must understand that when the Church suffers her Mystical Passion, the Pope will be the object of the persecution, not its protagonist. In other words, the Vicar of Christ will, even more so than the other members of the Church, be persecuted. He will certainly not be the one doing the persecuting. Any putative Passion of the Church that would make the Pope into the persecutor of Catholics, is absurd on its face. It would be like Christ persecuting His disciples instead of dying on the Cross for them.

Is it really so difficult to accept that the members of the Church would be persecuted not by a true Pope but by a false one? Would that not make more sense? Here are some more helpful resources regarding this subject:

Lastly, Br. Alexis Bugnolo, forever stuck in an alternate universe, claims that Francis, whom he accepts as a valid Pope only because a pseudo-conclave organized by him elected him nine months ago, has committed an act of schism by “sacking a Bishop without cause and for no crime other than being a Catholic….” He assures readers that “Catholics in good conscience can refuse all commands and orders of Pope Francis and priests can refuse to mention his name in the Canon.” Bugnolo has spoken, the case is closed. Phew!

Thus far our roundup of the initial feedback on the Strickland drama. Some more reactions can be found at Life Site.

For years we’ve been saying that those who do not reject Francis’ claim to the Papacy, will necessarily end up rejecting the Papacy. That is simply because Francis and the Papacy do not go together. Therefore it is so important to understand that Francis is not a true Pope. It has nothing to do with pride, or rash judgment, or usurping authority. It is a matter of upholding Catholic doctrine, for either Francis is true or the Papacy is.

The semi-trad reactions to the Strickland drama confirm this once again.

Image source: composite with elements from Shutterstock (El Greco/Carlos Yudica), Catholic Identity Conference, Wikimedia Commons (SajoR/Presidencia de la República Mexicana; cropped and background removed)
Licenses: paid and paid and fair use and CC BY-SA 2.5 DEED and CC BY 2.0 DEED

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