It’s not ‘my truth’ but Jesus’: Bp. Strickland explains his outspoken defense of orthodoxy
April 12, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In a wide-ranging interview with LifeSiteNews, Tyler, Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland said that while speaking strongly about the abuse scandal, sexual morality, abortion, and homosexuality, etc., he is simply doing the work of a Catholic bishop.
While this teaching isn’t always easy to follow, he says bringing the teaching of Christ to his flock is fundamental to a bishop’s job.
The bishop of Tyler, Texas, has spoken with clarity in recent months regarding subjects of great concern to faithful Catholics, in particular the abuse scandal, sexual morality, and abortion, doing so via various venues, such as his Twitter account and at the U.S. bishops’ semi-annual meeting last fall.
It’s garnered him attention, because anymore it makes him somewhat unique.
(Read LifeSite’s full interview with Bishop Strickland below or click here.)
While he realizes that voicing Church principles today, especially on social media, can make him stand out, Strickland says he’s just serving his northeast Texas flock.
He feels so strongly about his call as bishop to teach the Catholic faith to his flock that he promulgated a comprehensive charter, the Constitution on Teaching, nearly two years ago for the Tyler diocese and established an institute, the Saint Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization, to follow through on the commitment to teach the truth of the Catholic faith.
Asked by LifeSiteNews in a recent interview about the attention he’s received for often being forthright about Church teaching, he said members of the laity have expressed appreciation, but he’s also heard good feedback from other bishops.
When asked how he responds to various reactions to his outspoken defense of the faith, he said: “Well, really basically, a pretty simple response,” he said, “but my response is the same: that I’m ordained.”
“I mean, it’s not my truth,” Strickland said. “It’s the truth of Jesus Christ. I’m ordained to shepherd people according to that truth.”
“One thing that I’ve tried to emphasize for myself through these past months is, my work and my responsibility is with the diocese of Tyler,” he said: “33 counties in northeast Texas.”
Some 1.5 million people live in the geographical area, he said, with about 120,000 registered Catholics, probably more not on the rolls, and he feels called to teach the truth of Christ to every person who lives in those 33 counties.
“So it’s my job to teach what Christ teaches,” he told LifeSiteNews, so the laity feel supported.
“I’m sure some feel challenged because it’s not exactly a comfortable gospel,” said Strickland. “It’s a narrow path. In all aspects of living Catholic life, of following Christ, it’s a narrow path, that. It’s hard to walk.”
Referencing the term “champion” in the question, Strickland said that’s his job in a real sense, though emphasizing, “Not to champion my-self, but to champion the gospel of Christ and to help them [laity] feel supported in it.”
“And I have to say, I’ve gotten a lot of support from the people here in the diocese and beyond,” he said. “[They a]re grateful that I’ve spoken up.”
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops debated a response to the Church’s sexual abuse crisis at its Fall General Assembly in Baltimore last November, Strickland questioned his brother bishops from the floor on whether collectively they believe the “doctrine of the Church or not” regarding homosexual activity.
He questioned as well how Theodore McCarrick was allowed to persist in abusive behavior and be elevated to cardinal despite his predation of seminarians being an open secret at all levels of the Church.
“How did this happen,” asked Strickland, “if we really believe that what was going on was wrong?”
He also questioned how it was allowed for a priest to travel around, essentially saying he did not believe this doctrine of the Church, an apparent indirect reference to Jesuit Father James Martin.
Strickland was also the only one among the 200-plus bishops convened for the assembly to stop over to the rally being held adjacent to the bishops’ meeting by hundreds of lay Catholics who had traveled there to express anger over the abuse crisis. He went, he said, because members of his flock asked him to.
He routinely preaches the faith via communication vehicles in his diocese, but his articulating Church teaching or expressing support for it on social media are what has drawn attention, and the examples are numerous.
Following the law’s passage, he concurred in a tweet with Knoxville, Tennessee, Bishop Richard Stika, who had said he’d issue an excommunication for a Catholic governor under his jurisdiction who had voted for such a bill.
“I’m with Bishop Stika,” Strickland said. “I’m not in a position to take action regarding legislation in New York but I implore bishops who are to speak out forcefully. In any sane society this is called INFANTICIDE!!!!!!!!!!”
Strickland said in regard to his fellow bishops that behind the scenes, many have expressed their support and their appreciation.
In some of those conversations, it was discussed how in many places, the politics and general tone of the culture are so anti-Catholic that it’s more difficult for a bishop to speak up. Strickland concedes that he’s in the Bible Belt, and so, though not prevalently Catholic, it is an overtly Christian area. Thus, a lot of what he speaks out on, such as the abortion issue, is something many faithful Christians in the area would very much be in line with.
In his own prayer and reflection, he says, he has pondered, “I am in a relatively small diocese. Why am I the one speaking out?”
“Well, maybe the Lord is using me and helping to support the basic teachings of the Faith,” Strickland said, “where it’s easier said than done in some places around the country.”
There are some dioceses where things are so secular, he said, that it’s a case of so much pushback, and to say some of the things he has would create real challenges.
Some bishops may also choose not to teach via social media, he says. He knows a lot of the bishops who are teaching clearly in their own diocese, and because it’s not in this fashion, they haven’t received the national attention he has. Every bishop has to handle his own flock, he said.
“Many of the bishops refrain from doing that, and I respect their choice to do that,” Strickland told LifeSiteNews. “Like I said, my focus is always on the Diocese of Tyler, but I recognize when I tweet something, it’s not just for the Diocese of Tyler. And I try to be very conscious of that.”
Many bishops have expressed appreciation for his speaking up, he said.
“And it’s helped to support them when maybe, for whatever reason, they’re not quite ready to join the chorus, in a sense, at least in an overt, vocal way,” he added. “But they’re certainly supporting the same teachings.”
In any event, Strickland is embracing his call as a bishop to teach the Catholic faith.
“So, if the Lord wants to use me as a sort of a David-voice in the face of the Goliath of our sinful culture,” he told LifeSiteNews, “you know I’m ready to pull out the slingshot.”