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Bishop Joseph Strickland visits Catholics rallying outside USCCB meeting Nov. 13, 2018. Doug Mainwaring / LifeSiteNews
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EXCLUSIVE: Bishop explains why he prayed with Catholics rallying outside US bishops’ meeting

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Catholic laity at the Silence Stops Now rally in Baltimore, MD, Nov. 13, 2018. Doug Mainwaring / LifeSiteNews
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Catholic laity with signs outside the bishops' fall General Assembly meeting place, Nov. 13, 2018. Doug Mainwaring / LifeSiteNews
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Bishop Joseph Strickland visits Silence Stops now Rally taking place outside USCCB meeting Nov. 13, 2018. Doug Mainwaring / LifeSiteNews

BALTIMORE, Maryland, November 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Why did one prelate among some 200-plus bishops at last week’s US Bishops’ meeting venture across the Baltimore Inner Harbor walking bridge to where hundreds of Catholics were rallying, upset over the Church’s sex abuse scandal?  

“Well, very simply, because some of my flock asked me to,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive interview. 

Members of his east Texas diocese had told  Bishop Strickland that these people would be there praying at the Nov. 13 Silence Stops Now rally and needed to hear from their bishops.

Catholics gathered adjacent to where the Bishops met at the Marriott Waterfront (Nov. 12-14), to call for accountability from U.S. Catholic Church’s leadership, to hear from one of alleged abuser Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s victims and others, and to pray.

Reports have said representatives from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had portrayed the Catholics who had traveled to attend the accompanying rally to local law enforcement and others as dangerous.

Bishop Strickland recounted to LifeSiteNews that he went to the rally carrying his rosary, unsure of what he would encounter. 

He found that while some carried placards that challenged bishops on the issue of abuse, that the Catholics there turned out to be everyday members of the faithful - some reminding him of his mother or grandmother - who were grateful he’d come to pray with them.

Bishop Strickland described them as “very quiet, people of the family of the Church,” continuing further, “and they said, yeah, thank you for praying with us. And that’s basically what I did.”

The recently concluded USCCB Fall General Assembly neither inspired confidence nor dispelled anger among Catholics over the handling of the abuse crisis by Church leaders.

Adding to anger among the laity was the Vatican’s last-minute quash of the USCCB’s planned vote on two measures that would have addressed abuse involving bishops, and the US Bishops’ failure to pass a motion asking the Vatican to release McCarrick-related documents. 

Bishop Strickland also stood out during the meeting when he spoke frankly to his brother bishops about Church teaching related to homosexual activity, questioning whether the bishops believed the doctrine of the Church in this regard.

READ: US bishop challenges brother bishops for allowing pro-LGBT priest to speak in dioceses

He told LifeSiteNews that bishops must uphold the Deposit of Faith given by Christ.

“If you look at most issues, the truth is pretty clear,” he said. “It’s tough, it’s hard to live, but look at the moral teaching of the Church on sexuality, it’s really pretty clear. It’s a very narrow gate. We want to complicate it, turn it into a 25-lane highway – No. It’s a narrow path.”

In his interview with LifeSiteNews, the Texas bishop also talked about the idea of fraternal correction among bishops and why he spoke out in support of investigating the allegations of former Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò who accused Pope Francis of covering up for McCarrick. 

The full interview with Bishop Strickland is below:

LSN: You made some courageous remarks on the floor of the assembly as a far as recognizing Church teaching. What drove you to do that?

Bishop Strickland: Well truly a very personal journey for me, a couple of years ago, I just really felt called to begin teaching the truth more powerfully. In our area, [there are] very faithful people, but not well catechized in the Catholic faith. We’re in a very non-Catholic area of Northeast Texas. And that process has just continued to develop. We’ve done some things in the diocese: established an institute for catechesis and evangelization, and I wrote a constitution with a lot of supportive help from others on teaching – just teaching the truth, because I think, my theory is that so much of what’s broken in our world is we’ve lost touch with what the Church calls the Deposit of Faith.

And it’s interesting, part of my reflection on the prayer day that we had was on the promises that bishops make. One of our promises is that we will hold true the Deposit of Faith, and that truth stretches everything the Church teaches. And the more we can focus on that, I think the more we know the good news of Jesus Christ. I guess that’s what prompted my remarks also. Because especially with the Youth Synod, [there was] so much confusion, so much, you know, trouble and upset with the youth. I didn’t hear anything about the Gospel’s good news - it’s a joyful message. And I think we need to get that word out better. The Catholic Church is accused of being bigoted against various groups. There couldn’t be anything farther from the truth, if we understand the message: The love of the human person from conception to natural death, the sacredness of that person created in God’s image, and flowing from that, everything that humanity should be about is the family of God. That’s the treasure of the Church, and I think we’ve allowed it to not be proclaimed from the rooftops with the great joy that it should be - that the Church began with. I’ve said to my diocese, here in the 21st Century we need to have that First Century fervor with which the Church began. 

Part of the discussion at the meeting also touched on fraternal correction, and you had issued a bit of a challenge or a call to your brother bishops about that, that was also part of your courageous remarks. Why (is fraternal correction) so sensitive or sticky a subject among bishops?

I think we have to love each other as men dedicated to Christ. Part of what we heard in one of the great presentations on [Nov. 12] was a call to just remember that moment when we felt the call, when we responded to the call to go to the seminary, to say, 'okay, I want to preach too, [I want] this priestly vocation.' And I thought that was very important. And we were asked to think of one word to describe that. And the word that came to my mind, and I talked to other bishops that had the same word – joy. And I think that, remembering that.

We’re just men. We’re sinners. We’re at heart...you know, I tell people; I feel like the kid from east Texas, I grew up there, in the diocese. And I think we need to remember that, we need to remember that humanity. We’re weak, we’re confused sometimes, we’re fearful. We’re everything that every other human being is. And I think we need to remember that humanity, and to support each other. You know, I’ve been a bishop — at the end of this month it’ll be six years — and it has been really a tremendous growth for me. We talk about in the tradition of the Church the grace of office. I think the people of Tyler will tell you that they’ve seen that at work. My own siblings, I grew up in a family of six kids, I am the fifth in those six, so I have a younger sister and older siblings – They’ll tell you, this is not our kid brother, this is not Joe, this is the Holy Spirit at work, and so I think we need to remember that about each other, and that fraternal correction [is] done out of love.

And rather than just say, 'oh, that decision’s crazy' or 'why’d you do that?' that we develop more of a camaraderie where we can ask each other, and as I’ve tried to say [to my brother bishops], 'can we allow people to teach things that aren’t true?', and to call each other on that. And I need to be willing — and I want to be willing — to submit. I’ve made mistakes, especially in ministry, you know. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made my own mistakes. But we need to be as brothers willing just like brothers in a family, instead of fighting or taking sides — to just say, we’re part of one family, let’s help each other, let’s believe in each other enough to say, 'I don’t understand what you’re doing.'

I think that’s where we need to begin, with not so much correction, but just fraternal dialogue. Say, 'why did you do that? Explain to me, if I’m not understanding or I’m saying I disagree.' [...] I think that everyone in the Church needs to recognize, to give the benefit of the doubt, that these are good men, and yeah, we make mistakes, yes, we’re sinners, yeah, we can make the wrong decision, and we can forget to care for people properly. I mean we all, fathers, in families do that sometimes. And I think [we must give] the benefit of the doubt, and say, 'please explain, if I’m not understanding or if I’m angry or if I’ve been hurt.' [We must] give the chance to explain. So, I think we need to do that, for the sake of the Church, more fully. And to call each other to what we promised, to uphold the Deposit of Faith, to fidelity to the Chair of Peter, and how does all that work in a very complex world.

But truth is not that complex. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned. If you look at most issues, the truth is pretty clear. It’s tough, it’s hard to live, but look at the moral teaching of the Church on sexuality, it’s really pretty clear. It’s a very narrow gate. We want to complicate it, turn it into a 25-lane highway – No. It’s a narrow path, that’s hard to live. And we fail. I’ve failed. We all fail in different ways, in all kinds of ways, we’re all sinners.

Further along the lines of courage, or taking courageous steps or action, you joined briefly the event outside the hotel organized by lay Catholics who are frustrated with how this abuse crisis has gone. Why did you go over there?

Well, very simply, because some of my flock asked me to. Some of the people back home said, 'Go, and pray with those people.' And that’s what I did. And sadly, you know, they’ve been presented to us as bishops: “Oh the protesters are out there …” Well, they were maybe holding, maybe a couple of placards, but it was, you know, just people that looked like, my mother, or grandmother, you know, holding these placards - challenging, yes. But, it was very interesting because, when I went out there, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if they were going to start yelling at me, or what. But I went, holding my rosary, praying, (and they were) very quiet, people of the family of the Church. But the reason that I went out there is some of the flock back home asked me to. Because they said these people are going to be there praying, and they need to have bishops …and they said [afterwar], 'thank you for praying with us.' And that’s basically what I did.

You were one of the first if not the first bishop to commend Archbishop Vigano for speaking out. There have been folks taking two sides on that, very often divided. And, in fact, on the floor of the assembly, a remark was made about the call in the initial testimony for the pope to resign. Do you see that remark maybe being used against the bishops who have shown support for Archbishop Vigano?  

My intention, again, I was speaking to my flock, because they’ve been traumatized by the McCarrick situation and the Pennsylvania report. It was like 'strike three,' as far as I was concerned. And so, what was in my mind was, 'I need to tell my people, I need to respond to this for the sake of my people.'

I realize — and certainly, I know — the media is out there and everything. Once you say something, it’s everywhere. But that was my intention, was to speak to my flock. I hardly know Archbishop Vigano, but I said, 'it looks like credible issues' and I tried to use the same measure that we in the diocese would use. I mean, he mentioned some facts, he mentioned some names, and he mentioned some things that seemed credible. And I said in my statement, 'these are only allegations, and they need to be looked at.'

Regrettably, you know, he did say Pope Francis should resign.

I never embraced that. [...] I said [he] should be investigated. I didn’t say it should be implemented. That’s a distinction that doesn’t tend to get made. I haven’t talked to Archbishop Vigano, I don’t know. But I think he put that in to demonstrate just how seriously he was taking this; that’s how I heard it. But I would make the distinction that I said it needed to be investigated, not that it needed to be implemented. I’ve never said...and that’s why I tried to in my own prayer, looking at the promises a bishop makes, one of those is fidelity to the Chair Peter. I think that’s essential. And as I’ve talked to the faithful at various times about that question, and I tweeted it this morning, I believe fidelity on the part of all of us is the best way we can strengthen and support Pope Francis. Because, I don’t know what he’s dealing with, I can’t know the things going on in Rome. It’s a very complex world there. We do have to be faithful to him as the one who holds the chair of Peter. It’s a promise we’ve made, and I think the greatest way to do that is to uphold those other promises – to hold to the Deposit of Faith, to be faithful to Christ, and to strengthen Pope Francis. Because ultimately his job is to be faithful to Christ, as is true for all of us. 

Your flock is in east Texas; but as we mentioned earlier with the media, your reach goes further. Folks know you went across the street, folks know what you said on the floor of the assembly. Whether it’s your flock in east Texas or beyond, do you have any general words for the faithful right now? 

Yes, I do. One of the key issues, I believe, in all of this is, how do we treat the sinner? I think that’s woven into, I mean, we had discussions [at the assembly] about Archbishop McCarrick, and how is he treated. I mean, he’s been pretty much judged to be a sinner, and I guess there’s enough evidence there. We’re all sinners. How do we treat the sinner? And I think that the controversies that come down to it, and the Deposit of Faith is what Jesus Christ did with sinners. Your sins are forgiven - Go and sin no more - a firm purpose of amendment of your life.

And I think the homosexual issue, the money issues, the power issues that are all woven into this … any sexual immorality is sinful. That’s what the Church teaches. How do we treat that? Stop. Go to Confession, and reform your life, whatever the sin is. That’s the message of Jesus Christ and His Church. I think what’s tended to happen is, 'Oh well we embrace you,' but we forget the stop the sin and reform your life part.

Christ didn’t forget that. He doesn’t say, 'Your sins are forgiven, see you next time around.' He says, 'Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.' That’s His love, that’s Divine love, calling us from the darkness of sin that he died to free us from to allow us to share in His light. You know I guess that ultimately is why I think we need to emphasize: This is good news for humanity.

As a kid, I remember they had New Testaments they used to pass out to us. It was just the New Testament. And I can still see a little paperback New Testament, and on the front of it was Good News for Modern Man. We need to remember that the Catholic faith and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is good news for modern man, especially modern man, even within the Church. Sometimes we forget that. [We might say], 'Oh it's such a burden, it’s such a struggle, and we bear a cross' – absolutely. But even the cross is good news in the light of Christ.  

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