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Bp. Strickland.Diocese of Tyler/Facebook

TYLER, Texas (LifeSiteNews) — Tyler’s Bishop Joseph Strickland has declared his public opposition to Pope Francis’ “program of undermining the Deposit of Faith,” as part a series of tweets in which he also changed his position regarding the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).

Bp. Strickland, well known among LifeSite readers for his outspoken defense of Catholic teaching, recently took a firm stance against confusion in the Church. In a Twitter post on May 13, Strickland doubled down on his prior rejection of a view held by Catholic podcaster Patrick Coffin – namely that Pope Francis is not the real Pope. The bishop wrote:

Please allow me to clarify regarding, ‘Patrick Coffin has challenged the authenticity of the Pope Francis.’ If this is accurate I disagree, 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.

Strickland’s original message had been to support the Magis Center, which had issued a public statement distancing themselves from Coffin due to his views regarding the vacancy of the Papal throne. Father Robert Spitzer S.J., president of the Center, had given an interview with Coffin before learning of Coffin’s position. Spitzer subsequently withdrew his connection from Coffin publicly. 

READ: Source says unnamed cardinal told him SSPX founder Abp Lefebvre will one day be named ‘doctor of the Church’

This action, Bishop Strickland supported, saying that “I join Fr Spitzer and fully endorse his stance regarding any statements from Patrick Coffin regarding Pope Francis.”

Shortly after, the Tyler-based prelate issued a message warning about “conflicting voices,” and urging instead that Catholics “always turn to Jesus.”

Some hours later, Strickland issued another message, warning against attending the Society of St. Pius X. He described the SSPX as one of the “schismatic movements,” which alongside the “sedevacantists” were “an injury to the body of Christ,” no matter how “well-intended” they are.

“We must fight for total unity, not just aspects of Catholicism,” he said.

The Texas prelate was swiftly criticized by many online, with Catholics pointing out the number of statements from various Church officials defending the SSPX as not in schism. 

Matt Gaspers, managing editor of Catholic Family News, also queried how Strickland’s public opposition to the Pope “program of undermining the Deposit of Faith” was any different from the stance taken by the SSPX.

Paul Casey M.D., who has researched and written on the question in detail, also rebuffed the bishop’s argument by providing a number of quotations from high-ranking prelates regarding the status of the SSPX. 

But a little over 24 hours later, Strickland issued a public correction, citing Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s expertise and writing “A correction … as Bishop Schneider has stated, the SSPX is not in schism.”

READ: Why it is morally licit to attend Holy Mass celebrated by the Society of Saint Pius X

“The SSPX continues to hold Tradition out for the Universal Church,” he added. “The Eucharist of the SSPX is held as valid by the Catholic Church. We must turn to Jesus’ Eucharistic face.”

Strickland’s public social media messages may have earned him some rebuke. Heterodox website Where Peter Is reported the bishop’s tweets, saying that Strickland “appears to have finally crossed the line into direct and explicit opposition to Pope Francis and his teaching authority.”

The report added that news of Strickland’s public statements had been conveyed to the Papal Nuncio for the U.S.: “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.”

‘Not outside the Church’

As noted by Strickland, Bishop Schneider has indeed often spoken in defense of the SSPX, noting them not to be in schism. The society is not in “schism,” nor is there an  “excommunication” on members of the SSPX, he said in September, and thus “they are not outside the Church.”

Schneider’s analysis of the SSPX is particularly noteworthy, since he was asked by the Vatican to conduct an official visit to SSPX seminaries on behalf of the Holy See. As a delegate on behalf of the Holy See to the SSPX, he visited two SSPX seminaries in 2015 and shared his observations with the news service Adalente la Fe. He recounted how he could see “no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition.”

READ: Bp. Schneider: Current ‘emergency of faith’ means Catholics can receive sacraments from SSPX

While describing the Society’s canonical situation as “irregular… due to the great crisis which we are living [in] since the Council,” he added that “when there is an emergency of faith, the canonical legal aspect is secondary and the first [priority] is the faith, the truth, and the liturgy and all this which the Church always kept, as it was in the fourth century during the Arian crisis.”

More recently, Bishop Vitus Huonder – the 80-year-old prelate who lives in retirement in a house of the SSPX – has similarly weighed in defending the SSPX and stating that Pope Francis does not consider them schismatic. 

READ: Pope Francis said SSPX priests ‘are not schismatics’: retired Swiss bishop

In a recently released video statement, Huonder revealed that “Pope Francis spoke to me and said: ‘They [the SSPX] are not schismatics.’” The now-retired bishop has spent his retirement with the SSPX as a time of study, which he said had given him “a new perspective,” and a “new view on the past 70, 80 years.”

Referencing the current “crisis” of the church, Huonder said it was caused by a “cryptic moving away from Tradition, from the authentic teaching of the Church, both in the documents of the [Second Vatican] Council and in the ensuing magisterial documents and decisions.” This is why, according to the Swiss prelate, SSPX-founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre “could not follow unreservedly the instructions and doctrinal statements of the Council and of the official church announcements that followed the Council.”

“His attitude was factually justified and entirely in line with the Faith of the Church,” Bishop Huonder concluded. “He should have been listened to more.” Accordingly, “the measure taken against him [by the Church’s hierarchy] was a grave injustice, because it is easy to prove that the Church’s government has moved away from Tradition.”