On the heels of the pointless Synod on Synodality and a confusing motu prio on theology, Pope Francis finally caught the world’s attention by removing Bishop Joseph Strickland from leading the Diocese of Tyler in East Texas. Francis offered no explanation for the move, so he has left everyone following the story to speculate on the reasons. As far as anyone knows, Strickland didn’t have any scandals, nor did he deviate from the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings. On the contrary, he is one of the loudest proponents of Catholic orthodoxy.
Strickland was a conservative who sympathized with traditionalist Catholics. He asked uncomfortable questions about the Catholic leadership deliberately ignoring sexual abuse. As Catholic writer Kevin Wells explains in a recent essay, five years ago Strickland openly questioned why nothing was done with then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a notorious sexual predator who preyed on incoming seminarians at his beach house.
Strickland has since developed a reputation for opposing Francis’ progressive agenda. This culminated in a number of criticisms of the latest synod. He expressed fears about massive changes to the church’s teachings. In all likelihood, Strickland’s complaints — and those of men like him — prevented these changes from occurring.
Strickland’s Loyalty to Francis
Various Marxists, who self-identify as Catholics (aka “liberal Catholics”), have attributed Strickland’s demotion to a speech he gave on Oct. 31 in which he called Francis a “usurper.” They fail to mention, however, that Strickland read those words from a letter he received. He was not asserting the claim himself. They also neglect to mention that Strickland has repeatedly pledged loyalty to Francis despite pressure from his supporters to do otherwise.
If Francis really had decided to punish Strickland for the speech, then he simply could have said so. Even if Francis had a flimsy reason for removing Strickland, acknowledging it would at least help people know where Francis stands.
As for Strickland’s response to his removal, he has shown the utmost patience and grace. He refused to break with the church and become a sedevacantist, a schismatic Catholic who rejects the pope’s legitimacy. Instead, Strickland has asked people to pray for Francis and keep the faith.
Catholics — and the Christian world in general — deserve to know more about the whole ordeal. They deserve more details, especially at a time when so many souls continue to go astray and governments marginalize and persecute the faithful.
So why has Francis removed Strickland? What’s his plan?
Some commentators will point to possible postmodern influences on Francis. Others speculate about the “Lavender Mafia” conspiring behind the scenes. Some consider him a Machiavellian prince consolidating his power and eliminating his opposition. Others will naively take Francis at his word and believe he does all this to make the church more inclusive.
But I believe his motivations are much simpler and much more profound. It’s not that he has some grand scheme to recreate the Roman Catholic Church in his image. Rather, Francis has become King Lear.
Pope Francis, a Modern King Lear
For those unfamiliar with William Shakespeare’s masterpiece, King Lear is about an old British king who decides to leave his kingdom to his two older daughters. Lear’s older daughters flatter him while he repudiates and disowns his youngest daughter because she tells him the truth. Sure enough, the older daughters quickly seize their inheritance and kick their father out, leaving him to wander the countryside with his court jester. As this happens, the daughter whom he rejected works to save him despite his former behavior.
Something similar is happening with Francis, an old and distinguished monarch who has surrounded himself with shameless yes-men. These advisers are inept ideologues with ample personal baggage. They have absolutely no clue how to address any of the challenges facing today’s Christians. Sadly, Francis evidently prefers the sweet nothings of his circle to the harsh truths of men like Strickland. His circle has kept him safely insulated from reality for years now. This fact was recently revealed in his bizarre rant on priests acting like dandies.
Just as Lear and his kingdom could only be saved by the daughter he spurned, Francis and his church can only be saved by Catholics who remain loyal despite it all.
The Future Roman Catholic Church
Most Catholics, if they are paying attention, can see that the Catholic left’s supposed victories will soon evaporate. They will pass away with the Boomer generation. Francis is 86, and the average cardinal is in his early 70s.
Waiting in the wings are much more conservative clergy ready to swing the ideological pendulum the other way. According to a recent report from the Catholic News Agency, “a full 85% of the youngest cohort describes itself as ‘conservative/orthodox’ or ‘very conservative/orthodox’ theologically. Only 14 percent described themselves as “middle-of-the-road.”
The upcoming generation of priests will be far less interested in the leftist distractions and mealy-mouthed platitudes that predominate among today’s Catholic leadership. Instead, they will challenge the lies of secular culture and ignite a spiritual revival for beleaguered Catholics.
Strickland knows this truth. It’s probable that Francis and his circle know it too, so they go out of their way to be relevant and adapt to secular culture. They will eagerly play footsie with environmentalists, LGBT activists, multiculturalists, and authoritarian communists as they deride traditionalists and conservatives at every turn. They know they had better do it now while they’re still alive and kicking.
Wait with Faith, Hope, and Charity
Thus, for the foreseeable future, the best thing Catholics can do is to exercise the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Our king is out in the wilderness, and his evil daughters are in charge, making a mess of things. Moreover, his advanced age has not made him wise but has only caused him to double down on his folly.
Fortunately, he and his kingdom can be saved in good time. We just need to focus on the future, have children and raise them right, and wait for the storm to pass.