Joseph Strickland, the highly controversial bishop of Tyler, Texas, announced Friday evening on Twitter, “I believe Pope Francis is the Pope but it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith. Follow Jesus.”

With this tweet, Bishop Strickland appears to have finally crossed the line into direct and explicit opposition to Pope Francis and his teaching authority. In the past, Strickland has hinted that he holds such opinions about the pope, but typically stopped short of stating them explicitly. For example, in July of last year he shared and expressed agreement with a video in which Pope Francis is described as a “diabolically disordered clown,” but avoided using such language himself. He also signed an open letter last year accusing Pope Francis of teaching heresy in the apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines schism as “the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” In the past, Bishop Strickland has used his Twitter account to suggest that several of his brother bishops, including Cardinals Arthur Roche and Reinhard Marx have left the Catholic faith, despite a lack of official or corroborating statements from the Holy See.

Strickland has a long history of associating with reactionaries and extremists in the Church and promoting pseudoscientific theories about the Covid pandemic and vaccine. He has also appeared as a featured speaker at events alongside conspiracy theorists and radical traditionalists, including a ‘Stop the Steal’ event following the 2020 US presidential election.

Immediately prior to his Tweet rejecting Pope Francis’s authority and accusing him of undermining the faith, Strickland tweeted, “In these troubled times with so many conflicting voices let us pray and always turn to Jesus. Let us remember we are fighting the powers and principalities of satan, not just human corruption.”

Sources have confirmed that they have relayed this information to the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, but an immediate response is unlikely, considering the late hour.

This morning, Strickland posted another tweet featuring a picture of the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, writing, “In these troubling times with so much confusion even from Rome it is critical to remain IN THE CHURCH. Schismatic movements like SSPX or Sedevacantists however well-intended are an injury to the body of Christ. We must fight for total unity, not just aspects of Catholicism.”

It is unclear how, following his rejection of the “program” of Pope Francis, Bishop Strickland intends to “fight for total unity.” After all, the Catechism of the Catholics Church says that the pope “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (CCC 882). Bishop Strickland seems to no longer grant his assent to this teaching. In the following sentence, the Catechism goes on to say, “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

The SSPX, or Society of St. Pius X, is a traditionalist organization founded by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the 1970s due to disagreement with the teachings and liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 for illicitly ordaining four bishops without papal approval. The group is unapproved by the Church and their priests and bishops do not have legitimate ministries in the Church.

Sedevacantists believe that Pope Francis is a heretic and an antipope and that there is no legitimate pope in the Church today.

In the meantime, pray for the repentance and conversion of Bishop Strickland, and keep all the Catholics of East Texas in your prayers.

[Updated May 13, 2023, 10 p.m. EDT]

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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