Pope Francis has named Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas to head the Vatican’s new office for laity, family and life. The Dublin-born bishop will celebrate his 69th birthday Sept. 2, the day after the new Vatican office officially begins its work. The Dallas Bishop Farrell is the brother of Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Both brothers were ordained to the priesthood for the Legionaries of Christ, but the Dallas bishop was later incardinated in the Archdiocese of Washington and served as an auxiliary bishop there 2002-2007. When the Dallas bishop arrives in Rome, it will be the first time the two brothers have ever ministered in the same city, the Vatican’s Bishop Farrell told Catholic News Service Aug. 17. The appointment “was a huge surprise to me and a huge surprise, of course, to him. But he has such a long experience of pastoral work and administration as well,” he added. Pope Francis, in a brief apostolic letter formally establishing the new “Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life,” said the office should respond “to the situations of our age and adapt to the needs of the universal church.”
Some analysis from John Allen:
By naming Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas on Wednesday as the first head of the Vatican’s newly created mega-department for Laity, Family, and Life, Pope Francis has accomplished two things at once: He’s handed another major victory to pastoral moderates, and he’s also further disabused notions that he’s cool to Americans. (Farrell, 68, isn’t American by birth since he was born in Dublin and came of age in Ireland, but by now he’s spent almost half his life in the States, including the last 14 years as an American bishop.) Farrell joined the Legion of Christ but left fairly early on, before sexual abuse controversies broke out around the order’s controversial founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado. He moved into the Archdiocese of Washington in 1984, where he served as a pastor and also took over a center for Hispanic ministry from then-Capuchin Father Sean P. O’Malley, who’s now the Cardinal of Boston. (No doubt that background was part of Farrell’s appeal for Francis. Farrell blogs in both English and Spanish, and in 2012 he became the first U.S. bishop with a Spanish-language Twitter feed.)
You can read more about the dicastery in the official announcement from earlier this year:
The new statute establishes, among other things, that the dicastery shall have competence in those areas pertaining to the Apostolic See for the promotion of life and the apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God’s plan and for the protection and support of human life. The aforementioned dicastery shall be presided over by a prefect, assisted by a secretary, who may be a layperson, and three lay under-secretaries, and will be granted a suitable number of officials, both clerical and lay, chosen as far as possible from different regions of the world, in accordance with the current legislation of the Roman Curia. The dicastery will be divided into three sections: for the lay faithful, for the family, and for life, each one guided by an under-secretary.
So what, exactly, is a dicastery? Glad you asked.
Essentially, “dicastery” is a nice fancy SAT word that means “office” or “department”:
(from Greekδικαστήριον, law-court, from δικαστής, judge/juror) is an Italicism that properly denotes the departments of the Roman Curia.
From the Vatican website:
The Roman Curia is the complex of dicasteries and institutes which help the Roman Pontiff in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and service of the whole Church and of the particular Churches. It thus strengthens the unity of the faith and the communion of the people of God and promotes the mission proper to the Church in the world. The dicasteries deal with those matters which, because of their special importance, either by their nature or by law, are reserved to the Apostolic See and those which exceed the competence of individual bishops and their groupings, as well as those matters committed to them by the Supreme Pontiff. The dicasteries study the major problems of the present age, so that the Church’s pastoral action may be more effectively promoted and suitably coordinated, with due regard to relations with the particular Churches. The dicasteries promote initiatives for the good of the universal Church. Finally, they review matters that the Christian faithful, exercising their own right, bring to the attention of the Apostolic See.