Bishop removed by pope to address conservative conference

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File photo of Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, speaking from the floor during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 11, 2019. The Holy See Press Office announced Nov. 11, 2023, that Pope Francis has removed Bishop Strickland from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Tyler. (OSV News photo/CNS file photo, Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — Bishop Joseph E. Strickland, the former shepherd of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, plans to address the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference‘s annual Ronald Reagan Dinner as a keynote speaker in February, CPAC announced.

Pope Francis removed Bishop Strickland from the pastoral governance of his diocese Nov. 11, without giving a public reason for his removal. However, speculation about his future in the diocese mounted after the bishop’s online posts accusing the pontiff of “undermining the deposit of faith.” The pope’s decision followed Bishop Strickland’s address to an Oct. 31 gathering in Rome, where he read from a letter by a “dear friend” that accused Pope Francis of being a “usurper of Peter’s chair” and then commented that Pope Francis was himself supporting an “attack on the sacred.”

“We are honored to have this courageous Catholic leader take this important role during @CPAC,” Matt Schlapp, CPAC’s chairman and the co-chair of Catholics for Trump in 2020, said in a Jan. 26 post on X, formerly Twitter.

Schlapp was accused last year of sexually assaulting a male campaign aide for Herschel Walker’s failed bid for a Georgia Senate seat in 2022. Schlapp has denied those allegations through his attorney.

Bishop Strickland did not immediately respond to requests for comment from OSV News, but forwarded them to a media representative. OSV News is awaiting a response to questions emailed Jan. 30.

CPAC, once a collection of conservative elected officials, policymakers and commentators of varying ideologies and ideas, has grown increasingly controversial and consolidated into a group of staunch allies and supporters of former President Donald Trump, who frequently speaks at the conference himself.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his authoritarian leadership of that country, spoke at the conference August 2022 in Dallas. CPAC decided to continue hosting Orban shortly after the Hungarian leader ignited public furor in Europe — and a high-profile departure from his government — for stating “we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race.”

This year’s CPAC takes place Feb. 21-24 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Other religious CPAC speakers

John White, a professor of politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, told OSV News that Bishop Strickland’s address will not be the first time in recent years that Catholic clergy have addressed the gathering, noting Father James Altman of La Crosse spoke at CPAC in 2021 despite being barred from public ministry.

Father Altman had been restricted from ministry and removed from his pastorate after refusing to back down from statements he made that Catholics who were Democrats and bishops and other authorities involved in COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were all going to hell. Father Altman, who revealed himself as a sedevacantist in a 2023 video where he publicly called Pope Francis a “heretic,” also is known for remarks referring to migrants brought to the U.S. as children as “criminal illegal aliens.” The priest also has dismissed the public extrajudicial lynchings of Black Americans — a campaign of racial terrorism in the U.S. that claimed 4,400 Black American lives between 1877-1950 alone — as a form of “capital punishment” for committed crimes.

White also drew parallels to Sister Deirdre “Dede” Byrne of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary speaking at the virtual Republican National Convention in 2020 where she endorsed Trump.

“It plays on the existing divisions within the Catholic Church,” White said, adding, “this fusion of religion and politics and culture” is part of “larger polarization within the country.”

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.