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"No way to stop me," says only bishop who regularly does this.
"I'm a fuckin' walkin' paradox. No I'm not."
-Tyler the Creator (no relation to Tyler TX)
I left Twitter about a year ago, mainly because it was a website where I spent a lot of time just to make myself angry or sad. Everything that has happened to Twitter in the past year seems to confirm that this was the correct decision. But I had this theory about my leaving Twitter: I figured that if I left, basically nobody would actually notice I was gone. I don't mean this in a "woe is me, nobody thinks I'm important" sense. I mean that Twitter doesn't have any negative space, no way to measure or even detect absence. There's nothing that says "Tony hasn't posted in a while". All you have is a constant stream of shit being dumped into your brain, but there's no way to keep track of what shit isn't getting dumped into your brain. If you don't say anything, nobody notices. And in a way, that's kind of liberating, because it means that - especially if you're a relatively anonymous person like me - you don't have to say anything if you don't want to, and nobody is going to bother you about it. Saying nothing is always an option. You can actually choose to say nothing, which I still do, about a lot of things. And while I don't tweet anymore, I do still try to keep this in mind when I write.
Things would be different if writing were my day job, but it's not, it's my hobby. Which means that I only really want to write stuff if I think that the nice people who read it will find it interesting or relevant or at the very least entertaining. Behind every G.O.T.H.S. piece is the implicit question "why am I saying this, now, instead of nothing, never?" And if I don't have an answer for that, I don't write the piece. It doesn't always have to be a great answer - I'm lucky that I have readers I can come to with a reason like "hey I just read this cool book" and they'll usually go with it - but there should be something there. Because I don't have to say anything if I don't want to, or if I don't think my saying it will be a good use of my time or the readers' time. Saying nothing is always an option; not always the right option, but always an option. There is, as it turns out, a long list of pieces that I started drafting for this newsletter that never saw the light of day because halfway through writing them, I went "eh there's not really enough here" and went to bed at a reasonable time instead of finishing the piece.
Which brings us, as it always does, to His Excellency the Most Reverend Bishop of Tyler, Texas.
What do you think Strickland did immediately after he posted this on April 18th? I like to think he dabbed and then held that position for a full hour while seated at his computer. Referring to the press secretary by her initials, possibly because he doesn't know her real name and this tweet is the first time he's ever heard of her. The use of the ellipsis going into "...period" for dramatic effect. The casual "by the way". The fact that parents are grieving and our nation continues to let this happen and his immediate response being "it's time to remind people that I'm right and everyone else is wrong." It's exquisite.
I mean, it really is, not just in the “amount of mad it makes me” but in the “different kinds of mad it makes me”. Think about all of the levels of analysis you just processed in the two seconds immediately after you saw that screenshot. You probably started with the knee-jerk "gee, that's not very pro-life of you", kind of a classic move by any bishop to just yammer on about abortion while ignoring other very real threats to life, including the lives of children, this is the sort of thing we’ve seen for years, decades now, and we just kind of sigh heavily and go about our day. And then you probably went "wait a second", because Strickland is not ignoring those threats to life, he's acknowledging them and then dismissing them. You probably remembered that in the week Strickland sent that tweet, there were two mass shooting events at children's parties, plus multiple teens in multiple states were shot for pulling into the wrong driveways or knocking on the wrong doors, plus a month ago we had another mass shooting at another school that captured national attention. Every parent, for decades, has had to deal with this, has had to be afraid for their children, has had to watch their government decide, repeatedly, that taking any measures to try and protect children from gun violence just wasn’t worth it. And you thought about how Strickland could have possibly thought that this was a clever thing to say in this moment, or that the moment called for being “clever” at all. You wondered for just a second, with morbid fascination, if Strickland thinks it's good that people are dying in this particular way because it's not another particular way? Maybe he was worried that those kids would grow up to vote for Democrats, so it's good that they're dying now?
Then you probably pushed that aside, but you couldn’t get past the fact that Strickland had the option to say nothing. There’s nothing in here that demands a response from the bishop of Tyler. There’s a lot of grieving and scared parents, and a lot of Republican Congressmen working very hard to make sure we don’t stop the next batch of children from getting shot. There’s nothing about Catholicism that demanded a response, nothing about the church’s political engagement or teaching that demanded a response, I’m not even sure Strickland has ever commented on gun violence before in any context.
Then you probably started wondering what it was, exactly, that Strickland wanted to have happen as a result of this tweet. Did he want Joe Biden to read it and come to the podium and say “you know what, never mind about guns, it’s really not that big a deal compared to abortion”? Did he want Catholics to call their Congressmen and say “stop debating guns we don’t care about them”? And then you maybe started wondering why Strickland became a bishop, or even a priest, in the first place. You wondered if he envisioned, during his ordination, meeting a suffering family and getting to smirk at them and say “bee tee dubs, it turns out gun violence isn’t an epidemic, so maybe choose your words a little more carefully when you talk about how your daughter died.” Then you thought about how sometimes you got scolded or yelled at, especially online, for disagreeing with the bishops about something, and you thought about how the bishops were ultimately men like this, who thought like this and talked like this, and you wondered who was possibly still ready to defend them at this point, who could possibly think there was value in agreeing with them on anything.
Then, you probably remembered that Stickland works in Texas, where it's already damn near impossible to get access to reproductive health care, but where you can get guns from the ATM. So it’s very possible that abortion isn’t the leading cause of death where Strickland works, so what he said is just something he pulled out of his ass, and then you go back, once again, to the fact that saying nothing is always an option, especially when the only thing you have to say helps no one, solves nothing, and offers nothing but pain and anger and frustration to people who already have too much of it. You end it all baffled that Strickland somehow found a way to say something worse than nothing on gun violence.
Of course, there’s no complexity here, there’s no tangled web of beliefs we have to navigate. Strickland is a stupid and cruel man whose two main interests are stupidity and cruelty. He sent the tweet because he likes when people respond to his tweet and his phone goes “ding”. Obviously, looking at a nation grieving at multiple tragedies and publicly saying "lol you're stupid for caring about this" requires a high caliber of shittiness, one that I prefer that the successors of the Apostles not aspire to practice. But nobody's surprised when Strickland says things like this anymore, he’s been doing shit like this for years, and ultimately the guy is just one bishop, there are 271 others in the country.
But then I have to repeat what I just said a minute ago: saying nothing is always an option, but it’s not always the right option.
271 non-Strickland bishops in the country. How many of them have publicly said that Joseph Strickland shouldn't have said any of the very bad things he’s said publicly? How many of them said "hey I don't think my brother bishops should be repeatedly sharing the video of Jim Caviezel's keynote speech to the QAnon conference." How many of them said "hey as bishops we generally don't want to speak at rallies about overturning the results of the presidential election"? You’ve probably already guessed the number (it’s zero).
It’s not like these guys don’t know who Strickland is, he’s one of the more active bishops online, and has been one of the more active bishops online for a decade; Vatican Radio described him in 2012 as “one of North America’s new generation of blogging priests”. Ten years later, NCR ran a profile of him describing him as “test[ing] the limits of conservative Catholic dissent”. His name is at the top of every piece, in mainstream or Catholic media, about Catholic bishops opposing getting vaccinated against COVID-19. When Church Militant protested outside of the USCCB 2021 meeting, Strickland hung out with them and got some photos. He’s built himself into a superstar across right-wing Catholic media. Because of him, every meetup of right-wing conspiracy cranks, who are all one grainy meme away from shooting up a polling place, gets blessed with the teaching authority of the Catholic church, and I like to think that the bishops would want to defend that authority from being tarnished or abused. Ignorance isn’t an acceptable excuse here.
There’s another excuse for inaction here, which is that bishops generally tend to avoid criticizing each other, especially in public. Usually it’s all couched in some sort of language about “collegiality”, but the idea is that the bishops are guys that are supposed to at least give the appearance of getting along with each other, and if they have issues, they work them out privately. Which is the reason why, for example, Joseph Naumann of Kansas City went on record saying the Pope was wrong about abortion and he was right. And it’s why multiple bishops publicly put out letters or blog posts criticizing San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy when he suggested that too many people were feeling excluded by the church; in fact, it’s why one bishop even wrote a piece in First Things explaining that McElroy was actually a heretic and should be barred from voting for the Pope. And it’s collegiality that explains why multiple bishops signed onto the 2018 Vigano letter accusing several of their fellow American bishops, by name, as participants in a vast gay child trafficking conspiracy.
Oh, sorry, I got my notes mixed up, those aren’t things that happen because of collegiality, those are the things that happen when you say you have a collegiality rule but the rule is actually horseshit. Of course bishops criticize each other all of the time, but the only ones doing the criticizing are the right-wing psychopaths. So with all of that in mind, nobody feels like saying anything bad about Joseph Strickland? They all think he’s doing a great job or something? If any bishop, at any point, had criticized him by now, I would have written a very different piece that probably would have said something like “criticizing him is good, but what’s really going to be important is focusing on material power, this can’t just be rhetoric,” you know, the same stuff I always talk about. But I can’t do that because we haven’t even gotten to rhetoric yet! Nobody has even done the bare minimum step of saying, publicly, “hey, I don’t think this guy should be saying and doing these things”! Sure, nobody’s called him a heretic or a pedophile like he’s happy to do to others - and I’m not saying that they need to - but nobody’s even said “maybe he’s not the best at his job”! And if they’re saying that to him privately, he clearly hasn’t been listening, so maybe it’s time to escalate!
What are these guys afraid Strickland will do if they upset him? Are they afraid he’ll accuse them of being part of a vast gay child trafficking conspiracy, and then mandate that every priest in his diocese read a letter on that conspiracy during Sunday Mass? He did that five years ago. Are they afraid he’ll publicly back conservative firebrand priests in other dioceses? He started doing that three years ago. Are they afraid he’ll co-found an intentional Catholic community for conservatives in East Texas and position himself as the leader of a faithful schismatic remnant that will withdraw from the sinful church? He did that two years ago, and it didn’t work because it turns out the whole thing was a giant scam based on fraud and wife swapping. Do you think he’ll accuse the Vatican of blasphemy? Would he dare? Yeah, he did it back in January. Any public criticism of Strickland would be considered a nuclear option, but he’s been launching nukes for years; if bishops are treating Strickland politely because they don’t want him to fly off the handle, then I have to ask why they think his behavior so far counts as “on the handle”. I have to ask if these guys aren’t saying anything because they really don’t feel strongly about what he’s saying, or if they’re kind of jealous that he’s saying it and they can’t. And I have to ask if the worst bishop in the country is really Strickland, or if it’s the other guys who are still letting Strickland be Strickland after all of this.
Saying nothing is always a choice. 271 bishops are still making that choice. And that should make you all different kinds of mad.
I recently learned that Twitter's original verification system was created as an indirect result of a lawsuit brought by, of all people, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa.
Or, to use my best display name, Tomie dePaodcast.
That post appears to have been removed from the Diocese of Tyler’s website, but the Wayback Machine never forgets.