Wednesday, August 17, 2016

As "Journey of Faith and Challenge" Begins, The Prefect Speaks

SVILUPPO – 3pm ET: And here, (almost) live from Dallas Chancery, the full afternoon presser given by Bishop Kevin Farrell on his appointment today by the Pope as founding Prefect of the new Vatican Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life...

While a Curial head being named from afar has traditionally learnt of his appointment in a phone call from the Secretary of State, in an extraordinary sign of this nod's import, Farrell said above – amid flashes of his trademark dry humor – that the call informing him of his selection came from Francis himself... and, confirming a morning report here, that he needed to be "convinced" to accept the job. (If you haven't clicked in already: 1. you'll want to hear the story for yourself; 2. stop being illiterate.)

In an additional headline, the Pope's pick as the church's lead spokesman for pro-life issues notably used his new pulpit to appeal to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) – the state's first Catholic chief since Mexican rule – to "show mercy" amid another execution scheduled for next week. Despite the longstanding advocacy of the Lone Star bishops on ending capital sentences – a call the Pope himself starkly amplified in last September's historic address to a joint meeting of Congress – Texas has led the US in exercising the death penalty, accounting for roughly a third of the nation's executions over recent years.

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2.30pm ET – For all the cited qualities that've suddenly landed him a catbird's seat in the heights of the Roman Curia, one thing Kevin Farrell has rarely gotten credit for is his strength as a preacher: it's carried modestly, to be sure, but it's there nonetheless.

Accordingly – all the more given the lack of a press conference upon his appointment today as founding Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life (presser's coming later) – below is the aforementioned homily the K-Far gave at February's ordination of his latest auxiliary in Dallas, Bishop Greg Kelly: a reflection on Pope Francis' vision of what it means to be a bishop for today's church, one that now doubles as a statement to the scene at large... including an especially relevant spin on Papa Bergoglio's oft-cited exhortation that true pastors bear "the smell of the sheep."

Building upon the morning line, discussions are indeed underway toward the appointment of Farrell's successor at the helm of the 1.3 million-member Dallas fold, which the new Prefect reportedly had to be "convinced" to leave, apparently to the point of turning down the Rome offer before finally coming to accept it. Given the visibility and voice of the church's lead post in what's now become the US' fourth-largest metropolitan area, at least on a symbolic level, the impending pick for Cowboys Country now jumps to the front of the nation's appointment docket, even if the waiting sees of Newark and Rockville Centre (whose incumbents are past the retirement age) are larger still. That said, today's move likewise brings a bit of history: for the first time ever, a Curial chief has been called to Rome from the American Southwest – yet another fitting nod to a Texas Catholicism which is still adjusting to its newfound status as the largest religious body in the second-biggest state.

On another facet, meanwhile, having distinguished himself on social media with a moving real-time stream of prayer and reflection as Dallas was shaken last month with the shooting of a dozen police officers amid a protest – five of them killed – it is especially telling that the prelate who now becomes the top Vatican voice on pro-life issues has become particularly and increasingly outspoken on reforming the nation's gun laws, which he recently termed "an invitation to kill" and, amid the ongoing spate of mass shootings, the enabling of a reality that "would be ludicrous if the situation were not so tragic." Accordingly, today's move is likely to bolster the nascent push for enhanced gun control measures that's been quietly building among leading US bishops over recent months, on the grounds that it is a "life issue."

To date, the most prominent prod on the topic has come in a rare public intervention from the Pope's principal Stateside adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who called the inaction on gun laws "very frustrating" and "a pale response" in a June interview during the USCCB's closed-door triennial retreat in the diocese of Orange.