Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas was named to head the Vatican’s new Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. Officially beginning its work Sept. 1, it merges the current Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Farrell is known as a pastoral moderate among the American bishops. Commentators see the appointment as an important part of Pope Francis reform of the Roman Curia. Michael Winters, in an NCR blog, says: “Bishop Farrell is one of the ablest administrators in the church who also happens to possess the ‘smell of the sheep.’ ” This appointment shows “that Pope Francis has a very clear idea of what is going on in the church in the United States, and who among the hierarchs are supportive of his vision.”
Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago commented: “I welcome the news that Pope Francis has established a new department for Laity, Family and Life and has appointed Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas as the prefect. Bishop Farrell is uniquely qualified for this task and has my enthusiastic support.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl said: “How appropriate that so soon after the publication of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, with its widespread and wholehearted reception in the church, we would now have a new Vatican office to further that important ministry. We rejoice to know that this challenge has been entrusted to the very competent Bishop Farrell.”
Farrell has been the bishop of Dallas since 2007. Before that, he served as auxiliary bishop in Washington, D.C. During his tenure in Dallas, the diocese has made inroads in nearly all sectors of the life of the church, from an increase in priestly vocations to steady Catholic school enrollment during tough economic times. The diocese also has seen more than $1 billion in expansion, renovation or new construction of churches, parish elementary and middle schools and high schools and other related facilities.
Farrell’s “accomplishments and influence are well-known throughout the Dallas community at large,” said Matt Kramer, president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation, an independent non-profit organization that over the past 25 years has provided $94 million in grants to religious, charitable and educational organizations through its hundreds of charitable trusts and funds. “It’s no surprise that he would be tapped for this role at the Vatican; it is well-deserved,” he told The Texas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Dallas.
“He is a humble servant and a strong advocate for the thousands of people who need hope and help in life — from children in poverty to immigrants who need a voice to families desperate for education and safe assistance,” said Dave Woodyard, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Dallas. “We wish him all the best and feel blessed to have had his counsel and partnership.”
In 2014 Farrell supported the decision of the diocese to house a family that needed to be quarantined because of their exposure to an Ebola patient. For more than a month, four people who were members of a Baptist church were housed in a bungalow in the Catholic Formation and Conference Centre in southern Dallas. At a news conference at the end of the quarantine Farrell said, “We help people because we’re Catholic, not because they are Catholic.”
Farrell reacted to the announcement of his new role saying he was “extremely humbled” Pope Francis chose him for the new office. “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.”
In many ways, families today are facing challenges. Lay men and women are seeking a stronger voice in the church. Pope Francis needs strong support for his vision. It seems he has picked the right man for the job.