KLTV [Tyler TX]
September 18, 2023
By Lane Luckie
In a recent pastoral letter to the approximately 120 thousand Catholics in East Texas, Bishop Joseph Strickland warns of an “evil and false message that has invaded the Church.”
The August 22 letter reiterates what the Bishop of Tyler refers to as ‘basic truths that have always been understood by the Church” and says they will be examined in the coming months as part of the Synod on Synodality, a multiyear process of listening and dialogue within the Roman Catholic Church.
“We must hold fast to these truths and be wary of any attempts to present an alternative to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or to push for a faith that speaks of dialogue and brotherhood, while attempting to remove the fatherhood of God,” Bishop Strickland wrote in the letter.
Next month, the first of two sessions to advise Pope Francis will take place in the Vatican. October 4, participants will begin work on discernment of possible next steps for the Church as part of the Synod on Synodality. Earlier this year, it was announced that, for the first time, non-bishops would participate in the assembly as full members. These individuals include priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and laity, according to the Synod website.
Some of the controversial topics expected to be addressed by the Assembly include: female deacons, inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics, married priests, and preventing abuse in the Church.
Bishop Strickland has, on multiple occasions, expressed concern over “those who seem to be pushing an effort to change the beautiful truths of our faith.”
In a second pastoral letter issued September 5, Bishop Strickland expanded on his earlier call for the faithful to remain vigilant through the upcoming Synod and offered a more in depth explanation of his first point on the nature of the Catholic Church.
”Part of this striving on earth consists in engaging in the spiritual battle that is taking place around us daily as many attempt to chip away or destroy altogether the Deposit of Faith,” he stated.
On September 12, a third letter referenced the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, outlining the teachings of the church on the central tenet of the faith. Bishop Strickland described the conditions under which Catholics may receive the sacrament. He also wrote that he expected the matter of members of the LGBTQ wanting to receive communion would also come up at the Synod.
“The Church offers love and friendship to all LGBTQ individuals, as Christ offers to each one of us, and the Church seeks to enable every person to live out the authentic call to holiness that God intends for them. We must be clear, however, that the Church cannot offer a person Holy Communion if that person is actively engaging in a same-sex relationship, or if a person is not living as the sex that God formed them to be at their conception and birth.”
The letter alluded to forthcoming communications regarding the remaining sacraments and topics outlined in the bishop’s first letter.
Earlier this year, Bishop Strickland challenged a separate synodal process, this one within the Catholic Church in Germany, that he says also attempts “to change the unchangeable.”
Since it was announced in 2019, the ‘Synodal Path’ in Germany has garnered worldwide attention for its stated purpose “to clarify central fields of action” in the following areas: clerical abuse of power, sexual morality of the Church, priest celibacy, and the role of women in the Church.
”We are looking for a way for the Church in this country and in this time. At the same time, the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany is to contribute to the Synodal Journey of the Universal Church, to which Pope Francis has invited all the faithful at Pentecost 2021,” a news release stated.
However, the discussion in Germany drew clarification from the Vatican.
”The “Synodal Way” in Germany does not have the power to compel the bishops and the faithful to adopt new ways of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals,” the Holy See Press Office published in a July 2022 statement.
After the German Synodal Assembly adopted a series of resolutions at its final meeting earlier this Spring, more than 70 cardinals and bishops from around the world, including the Bishop of Tyler, issued a ‘Fraternal Open Letter of Correction’ warning the process is causing confusion about Church teaching and could lead to schism.
“The majority sanctioned the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of women, and transgendered people, a fundamental change in the governing authority of bishops, and a radical rewrite of Catholic sexual morality,” Bishop Strickland posted on his blog.
The bishop’s concerns are also found on social media, including his profile on X, formerly called Twitter, where he connects with 140 thousand followers daily.
“The president of every Bishop’s Conference around the world should denounce the schismatic vote of the 38 German bishops who have voted to bless same sex unions,” he posted on March 10. “We must speak out and call them to return to Catholic teaching. They have hardened their hearts to the Truth.”
The state of the Church in Germany has also been a frequent topic on The Bishop Strickland Hour, a weekly podcast that also airs on Virgin Most Powerful Radio affiliates around the country.
”Bishops are to guard the deposit of faith. It’s a promise we made. And frankly the Synodal Path of Germany, as proposed, is doing the opposite. It’s eroding the deposit of faith and saying, ‘oh, it’s all up for grabs,’” Bishop Strickland told co-host Terry Barber on April 19.
The Synodal Path was the result of the MHG Study, a research report on the sexual abuse scandal within Germany 27 dioceses.
Another indication of alarm within the Church in Germany is a record number of Catholics leaving the faith. Statistics released this Summer by the German Conference of Bishops indicate 522,821 people disaffiliated in 2022, a sharp increase from the previous record 359,338 the year before. Catholics make up roughly 24 percent of the country’s total population, a decline of two percent over the previous year.
“I think a lot of people are walking away from the Church, not because we’re asking too much. But because they’re hearing that what the Church has been is changing. And they don’t want any part of it. I don’t want any part of it,” Bishop Strickland said on his July 16 podcast. “It’s not going to change and that’s what we’ve got to hold the line on. Yes, we reach out to everyone. And we seem to have lost the idea that ‘love the sinner but condemn the sin.’ That’s just basic to proclaiming the Christian message.”
A survey conducted in Germany by the Catholic News Agency showed the decline is related to the handling of the sex abuse crisis and the so-called “church tax.”
The Kirchensteuer or “church tax” is a constitutional agreement between the state and religious communities, including the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, Jewish Communities, and other free religious communities, in which the government tax office collects an eight or nine percent income tax from church members and passes the revenue along to their respective church.
According to the German Conference of Bishops, Catholics paid a total of 6.8 billion euros in 2022.
Renouncing membership in the church, being unemployed or a welfare recipient, students, retirees, and other specific situations are among the only exemptions allowed.
As indicated in published materials for the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome, some of the same topics addressed in Germany are expected to be included in these discussions.
Bishop Strickland, who is not listed among the more than 450 appointed synod participants, suggested that some who disagree with the proposed changes may be labeled as schismatics.
”Be assured, however, that no one who remains firmly upon the plumb line of our Catholic faith is a schismatic. We must remain unabashedly and truly Catholic, regardless of what may be brought forth. We must be aware also that it is not leaving the Church to stand firm against these proposed changes.”
On his August 25 podcast, he told co-host Terry Barber that the synod is asking questions about the Catholic faith where answers already exist.
”To come together and look at how can we do a better job of sharing this beautiful truth with humanity and with those in the Church who are not so sure – absolutely. But if it’s about trying to find how to get around this truth or how to change it, it shouldn’t even happen.”
The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held October 4-29.
The second session is scheduled for October 2024, when the synodal process is set to conclude.