Pope Francis has "relieved" Bishop Joseph E. Strickland from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, the Holy See Press Office announced Nov. 11. Simultaneously, Francis has appointed Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, as apostolic administrator to oversee the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

No reason was given for Bishop Strickland's removal. However, the pope's decision followed nearly two weeks after Bishop Strickland addressed a gathering in Rome, where he read a letter attributed to a "dear friend" accusing Pope Francis of having "pushed aside the true pope," a reference to the late Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston released a public statement on the bishop's removal Nov. 11. The cardinal said that after the apostolic visitation of the Tyler Diocese took place -- which he described as "an exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of the governance and leadership of the Diocese of Tyler by its Ordinary" -- it was recommended "the continuation in office of Bishop Strickland was not feasible."

"After months of careful consideration by the Dicastery for Bishops and the Holy Father, the decision was reached that the resignation of Bishop Strickland should be requested," Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement. "Having been presented with that request on November 9, 2023, Bishop Strickland declined to resign from office. Thereafter, on November 11, 2023, the Holy Father removed Bishop Strickland from the Office of Bishop of Tyler."

"Let us keep Bishop Strickland, the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Tyler, and Bishop Vasquez in our prayers," Cardinal DiNardo concluded.

OSV News was told by Diocese of Tyler communications director Elizabeth Slaten that Bishop Strickland is "not available for comment at this time."

The move comes after monthslong speculation Bishop Strickland may be ousted from his diocese. While his supporters have called him a staunch defender of Catholic orthodoxy, Bishop Strickland increasingly vocalized public criticism of Pope Francis that ventured into accusing him of betraying his office.

On social media, Bishop Strickland accused the pope of "undermining the deposit of faith."

From Sept. 5 to Oct. 17, Bishop Strickland published seven pastoral letters treating the nature of the church and of humanity, the Eucharist, matrimony and holy orders, human love in the divine plan, the error of universalism, and urged faithful in his final pastoral letter to "lift high the cross." The series of pastoral letters, however, were seen in opposition to the Synod of Bishops that Pope Francis had called to discuss synodality in the Catholic Church along the themes of "communion, participation and mission."

However, at the Oct. 31 Rome Life Forum sponsored by LifeSiteNews, Bishop Strickland gave a 46-minute address, which included him reading at length from a letter he attributed to a "dear friend." This letter accused Pope Francis of being "an expert at producing cowards by preaching dialogue and openness in a welcoming spirit and by highlighting always his own authority."

The bishop continued reading the letter (addressed to him) which went on to outright accuse Pope Francis of not being the true pope: "Would you now allow this one who has pushed aside the true Pope and has attempted to sit on a chair that is not his define what the church is to be?"

Bishop Strickland said the words were "challenging" but did not dispute the allegations.

At a later point, Bishop Strickland himself said, "One of the most frustrating things coming out of the Vatican, and it's supported at least by Pope Francis, is the attack on the sacred."

Bishop Strickland has ministered in the northeast Texas diocese since its founding in 1987 and led the diocese since his ordination as bishop in 2012.

Bishop Strickland did not mention his removal when posting to social media, but on Nov. 11 posted a message on X urging followers to "rejoice always that...no matter what the day brings Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, yesterday, today and forever."