The Pope Francis ousted leader of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, and dozens of his supporters, rallied outside the annual fall business meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday in Maryland.
Over the weekend, Bishop Joseph Strickland, a conservative, was removed from the “pastoral care of the diocese,” according to a bulletin from the Vatican, which also said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin was appointed as interim apostolic administrator.
Strickland wrote in a May 12 social media post on X, “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.”
Along with the post, Strickland also became the subject of a Vatican investigation earlier this year, and promised at the time he would not voluntarily resign.
He was ultimately removed because of his severe criticism of the pontiff, yet on Wednesday he was praying the rosary with dozens of supporters along the waterfront in Baltimore.
While outside, the bishops were inside approving a document suggesting how Catholics should rely on the church’s teachings and stances on issues like anti-abortion and pro-immigration, when casting their ballots.
The bishops approved supplements to its voter guide, known as “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
The guide included inserts and a video script with emphasis on current issues.
The bishops restate in the material that opposition to abortion is “our pre-eminent priority,” while also making a call for school choice and parents’ right to protect their children from “gender ideology” and the de-escalation of anger-driven politics.
The church also calls on its congregation to stand in “radical solidarity” with pregnant women, as efforts to restrict abortion are likely to galvanize abortion rights supporters.
Other examples for upholding human dignity, as outlined in the guide, include rejecting gender transitions, racism, assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and an economy that excludes and harms people. The church also calls to support common-sense gun violence prevention, immigrants, refugees and criminal justice reform.
But outside the meeting, Strickland and others made their presence known.
Strickland said Cardinal Cristophe Pierre, the papal nuncio, asked him not to attend the meeting. Pierre is Pope Francis’ diplomatic representative to the U.S.
Strickland told the Associated Press he was not there to start a movement, adding he respects the Vatican’s decision.
Still, supporters of his held signs voicing concerns about Strickland’s removal, including Mary Rappaport from Alexandria, Virginia and Suzanne Allen of Westport, Connecticut.
“We’re in a spiritual battle,” Allen told the AP. “When the pope asked Bishop Strickland to resign, it was a wound to the whole church.”
Rappaport told the wire service she thinks the bishop’s removal was a sign of greater issues, as if the pope is trying to change the church in dangerous ways.
Strickland’s supporters said they disagree with the pope’s move to welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community and focus on climate change.
Fox News Digital’s Brie Stimson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.