Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas to Head New Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life

Appointment marks the second major appointment of an American to a Vatican position this summer.

Bishop Kevin Farrell, who was appointed head of the new Vatican dicastery for laity, family and life on Aug. 17.
Bishop Kevin Farrell, who was appointed head of the new Vatican dicastery for laity, family and life on Aug. 17. (photo: CNA file photo)

VATICAN CITY — Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas has been appointed the head of Francis’ new “mega dicastery” for laity, family and life — a decision that marks the second major appointment of an American to a Vatican position this summer.

The news of Bishop Farrell’s appointment as head of the new dicastery was announced in an Aug. 17 communiqué from the Vatican and falls less than a month after another American, Greg Burke, stepped in as the new Vatican spokesman and director of the Holy See Press Office.

The appointment was accompanied by the release of the brief motu proprio Sedula Mater (Sedulous Mother), by which Pope Francis formally established the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

In a statement responding to the appointment, Bishop Farrell stated:

“I am extremely humbled that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has selected me to lead this newly formed dicastery.  I look forward to being part of the important work of the universal Church in the promotion of the laity and the apostolate of the laity and for the pastoral care of the family, in accordance with the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), and the support of human life.

“While I am grateful for the Holy Father’s confidence in me, I meet this news with mixed emotions. 

“Dallas has been my home for 10 years, and, from the beginning, I quickly grew to love the beautiful people and culture here. The strong faith, kindness and generosity of the people in the Diocese of Dallas surpassed all of my expectations. My brother priests were among the first to welcome me, and I am extremely grateful for their collaboration, friendship, wise counsel and prayers. A bishop can get nothing of significance done in a diocese without the hard work and cooperation of the pastors, priests, diocesan staff and people. Together, I believe we have accomplished many goals, and put others in motion, that will continue to build up the Catholic Church in North Texas.

“I cannot express enough my gratitude for all that the priests, staff and people have done and continue to do for me and the Diocese of Dallas. I know our Holy Father is working, as we speak, to find the right man to serve as the new chief shepherd. I am confident that, upon my departure, Bishop Greg Kelly will handle the needs of the diocese in the interim. Please pray for him. I also ask that you please pray for me as I begin this next, unexpected chapter of my priesthood. May God continue to bless the Diocese of Dallas.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington said in a statement, “The appointment by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, of Bishop Kevin Farrell as the head of the newly created dicastery … is welcome news, given Bishop Farrell’s demonstrated pastoral skills and his recognized administrative abilities.”

At a time when Pope Francis is placing the role of the laity, the importance of “a robust, pastoral activity” and the support of family and married life at the center of the Church’s attention, “the leadership that Bishop Farrell brings will be a blessing for all of us,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

Bishop Farrell, 68, was born in Dublin and was ordained a priest of the Legionaries of Christ in 1978. He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington in 1984 and was appointed an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 2001, where he led Hispanic ministries.

He continued to serve in that capacity until his 2007 appointment as head of the Diocese of Dallas, which boasts the 10th-largest Catholic population in the United States.

Bishop Farrell holds advanced degrees in philosophy and theology and is fluent in both Spanish and Italian.

Cardinal Wuerl also expressed his joy that the challenge of heading the new department “has been entrusted to the very competent Bishop Farrell.”

“Our prayers and best wishes go with Bishop Farrell as he now moves to Rome and his new responsibilities.”

The establishment of the new dicastery includes the cessation of the Pontifical Councils for the Family and the Laity, whose competences will be transferred to Bishop Farrell’s office.

Alongside the news of Bishop Farrell’s appointment was the announcement that Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, until now president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, will be taking over as president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The Pope also appointed Msgr. Pierangelo Sequi, president of the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy in Milan, as the new grand chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.

A new appointment was not provided Wednesday for Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, a Pole who has been president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity since 2003.

Pope Francis first announced his intention to establish a new Vatican department dedicated to laity, family and life during the October 2015 synod of bishops on the family.

The formal announcement was made by the Vatican June 4, 2016, with the official start date for the new department set for Sept. 1.

According to a set of statutes released with the June 4 announcement, the new department will promote “the pastoral care of the family, maintain the dignity and basic good of the sacrament of marriage, favor the rights and responsibilities of the Church in civil society.”

It will also pay special attention to “the particular mission of the lay faithful to permeate and perfect the order of temporal reality,” the statute continues.

With the full implementation of the new department, the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family will be dissolved, and the Pontifical Academy for Life will be connected to the new entity.

The department will be tasked with projects relating to the apostolate of the laity, the institution of marriage and the family within the life of the Church.

It will deal with matters regarding the promotion of life, the apostolate of the laity, the pastoral care and of the family and “its mission, according to God’s design, to support human life,” according to its statutes.

In addition to Bishop Farrell, the heads of the dicastery will include a secretary, who could be a layperson, along with three lay undersecretaries. Members of the department will include laypersons, men and women, celibate and married, working in different fields and coming from different parts of the world.

One of the tasks will be to promote the analysis of doctrine on themes and questions pertaining to laypersons.

The dicastery will also “establish aggregations of faithful and lay movements, which have and an international character, and will approve their statutes, save the competence of the secretary of state.”

Another focus will be the “deepening of the doctrine of the family” and promoting it through catechesis, especially with regard to the spirituality of marriage and the family.

Other programs will include formation of engaged couples and young people, supporting adoption and care for the elderly.

In addition, the department will support and coordinate “initiatives to encourage responsible procreation, as well as for protection of human life from its conception until its natural end, taking into account the needs the person in the different evolutionary phases.”

These initiatives will include efforts to offer support to women experiencing difficult pregnancies so they do not resort to abortion, as well as programs for post-abortive mothers.