Might the Bishop Joseph Strickland era soon be over in Tyler?
Reports of an apostolic visitation in Strickland’s East Texas diocese were reported by Church Militant just before noon Saturday and by LifeSiteNews in late afternoon. The LifeSite article referenced a video on YouTube featuring Catholic speaker Jesse Romero, LifeSite founder John-Henry Westen, and EWTN personality Doug Barry firing up a rambunctious crowd in favor of Strickland at a conference in support of “canceled priests” in Rosemont, Illinois.
A later report by the Pillar stated that the visitation was conducted this week and has been completed. Where Peter Is has independently confirmed through sources in Tyler and close to the Vatican that Bishops Gerald Kicanas (formerly of Tucson) and Dennis Sullivan (of Camden, New Jersey) conducted the visitation this week and were accompanied by two priests.
There have been mixed reports about the purpose of the investigation and whether it will ultimately lead to the removal or forced resignation of the bishop from his office. Many have speculated that this investigation is connected to the inflammatory statements frequently made by the bishop on social media. Last month, we reported on a tweet by Strickland stating of Pope Francis that “it is time for me to say that I reject his program of undermining the Deposit of Faith.” This statement appeared to cross a new line. 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” (CCC 2089). Strickland’s blatant rejection of the “project” of the pope suggests such a refusal of submission.
The Pillar reported on one priest’s account of the questions he was asked by the visitators, who told them that the “questions focused on Strickland’s administrative leadership in the diocese, rather than on his outsized social media personality.” The priest told them, “It was not even primarily about his ‘rants’ about Pope Francis,” saying that it focused mainly on governance issues. The Pillar also reported that the priest told them that during the interview, the visitators “were already asking questions about who might be a good fit to replace [Strickland].”
Speaking to Where Peter Is on the condition of anonymity, a priest of the diocese said that by the time the visitators spoke to him, “It was pretty obvious to me that they knew a great deal already.” He said that he also sensed that “a majority of the witnesses called were in favor of the bishop being removed.” Unlike the priest who spoke to the Pillar, this priest was asked about Strickland’s tweets and about the bishop’s understanding of the phrases he uses frequently, such as “the deposit of faith.” He said that among those interviewed were members of the diocesan presbyteral council, the finance committee, and officials at the chancery.
In addition to Strickland’s many controversial statements, dissident views, and possible mismanagement of the diocese, Where Peter Is has been told by multiple sources within the diocese that Strickland has been providing refuge to a a former French nun, Marie Ferréol, who was expelled from religious life by Pope Francis in 2021 after thirty-four years with the Dominican Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Pontcallec in Brittany.
Following a journalistic investigation into Ferréol’s permanent removal from religious life, the French Catholic newspaper La Croix summarized the reasons for her dismissal, saying, “Mother Marie Ferréol systematically criticized the institute’s government. She tried to pit one sister against another, as well as against the superiors, right up to Pope Francis, towards whom she made some very virulent remarks.”
After the Vatican received numerous letters complaining about Ferréol’s behavior and leadership — in addition to other dysfunction within the order, stretching back decades — she was investigated during an apostolic visitation, which eventually led to her removal. Although she has said she was never given a chance to defend herself, the visitators told La Croix, “This decision was not taken suddenly, and we had the opportunity to discuss it at length with Mother Marie Ferréol.” They went on to explain that both before and after the sanctions, Ferréol received multiple letters explaining the allegations against her and that she had ample time to defend herself.
According to multiple sources in the diocese, she somehow later found herself in Tyler and is still presenting herself as a sister, despite her permanent dismissal from religious life. According to an email sent to parents of students from Bishop Gorman High School earlier this year, “a woman religious” named “Sister Marie de la Valette” joined their faculty in January, where she was “assisting in world language classrooms and working in the library.”
The email said, “She comes from a religious community in France that has faced some challenges, as many communities have around the world. Sister is here with us in a time of personal discernment regarding her future path.” Another email to parents advertised a “Moms Mini-Retreat” on May 20, which was described as “an opportunity for prayer, reflection, and talks led by Sr. Marie to guide us in our mother’s vocation within our faith.”
Despite these email announcements, Ferréol does not appear on the school’s website or Facebook page. Assuming all this is accurate, how she wound up in Tyler is unclear, but it’s likely that the visitation of the past week turned up quite a few interesting things.
Image: Courtesy photo.