Meet the Head of the Super-Dicastery for the Laity
Even though Cardinal Kevin Farrell had asked his diocesan secretary to hold all phone calls so he could finish his work, one caller insisted on getting through.
“She came in and said that the pope was on the telephone, and I kind of laughed and said, ‘Sure, the pope’s on the telephone,’” he said, adding that the secretary continued to insist it really was the Holy Father because she knew his voice from television.
“And it was the pope,” he said.
Pope Francis made that surprise call in May to tell the then-bishop of Dallas he was the papal pick to lead a new super-dicastery bringing laity, family and life together under one roof.
“Well, I nearly had to call 911 because I did not expect that and I mustered my energy, my mind, to tell him a couple of reasons why I did not think I was the person for that job,” he said.
The cardinal said he breathed a sigh of relief when the pope said to just think about it and he would call again in three days, because he was sure the pope would never call back.
But he did.
Cardinal Farrell said he gave the pope even more excuses for not accepting the job, but then the pope said: “‘Well, you’d better come talk to me.’ And it was over,” meaning resistance was futile, the cardinal added, “and here I am” in Rome.
The pope told him there were separate Vatican congregations for bishops, religious and clergy and more, but there was no congregation for the men and women who make up 98-99% of the Catholic Church—the laity.
“So I want to give emphasis to the family and emphasis to the role of laypeople in the Church today, I want them to take their place within the Church,” he said the pope told him.
Naming him to the College of Cardinals, he said, was a special hat tip to the laity because putting a cardinal at the helm tells people the pope considers this focus of laity, family and life to be “very important”.
The new dicastery should have a full slate of members and consultors from all over the world early next year and a majority of them will be laypeople, he said. He expects it will take a year for the new structure to be “completely settled”.
What is new is that most of the senior positions will also have to be staffed by laity, as mandated by the statutes, and while that is a big change for a Vatican dicastery, “I don’t think it’s going to be unique for dicasteries in the future,” he said. “That is the intention of the Holy Father, to have laypeople involved in the administration of the Church.”
Cardinal Farrell’s new role and the role of the new office, he said, is to be a sounding board, listening to the needs of the laity across the world and providing bishops’ conferences with possible ways to engage the laity, have them participate more in the Church and promote the lay apostolate and solid formation of Catholics.
Despite his varied and vast experience, especially in finance and administration, the Dublin-born prelate said what has prepared him best for his new job are all the years spent working in parishes.
“I think we need to be a little more pastoral today,” to reach out to the people like Jesus did, not “afraid of speaking to public sinners and to cure the poorest of the people”.—By Carol Glatz, CNS