Dallas Gets a New Bishop, And He's From Alaska

Almost four months after the Vatican poached Bishop Kevin Farrell, Dallas' 1.3 million Catholics have a new leader.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis appointed Edward J. Burns, currently the bishop of Juneau, Alaska, to Farrell's vacated post. Burns, 59, will start his new gig on Feb. 7.

"I am profoundly grateful for my experience in Juneau and I pray for God’s grace as I take on my new duties as chief shepherd of this ever-growing Diocese of Dallas,” Burns said. "I look forward to listening and learning all that I can about this beautifully diverse Catholic community and I want to assure all in the Diocese of Dallas that I will be a shepherd for all people."

Burns began serving in Alaska in 2009 after being appointed bishop by Pope Benedict the XVI. Prior to becoming a bishop, Burns, 59, worked as the executive director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., from 1999-2008.

During his time in Juneau, Burns also served as the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, which has sought to ensure that Catholic churches are safe environments "designed to ensure necessary safety and security for all children as they participate in church and religious activities" in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church over the last 25 years.

Last year, in an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter, Burns cited numbers indicating that the church was getting better at stopping sexual abuse, but acknowledged that there was still work to do.

"Nevertheless, this is certainly not a sign that we have somehow put this scandal behind us, nor is it an occasion for self-congratulation. We must remain vigilant. We must not grow complacent. We should not regard the clerical sexual abuse scandal as a distraction from the church's mission, as if, once we have somehow 'rectified the problem,' we can continue on as before.

Rather, our shepherds, myself included, need to face and repent of the betrayal of trust. Authentic and heartfelt repentance by the shepherds of our church is not a distraction from our mission: It is the mission at this moment in the life of the church and her leaders," he wrote.

During a Tuesday press conference, Burns showed off his knowledge of one of the most important aspects of Dallas civic life.

"Having received the appointment as the bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, I am indeed a Dallas Cowboys fan," he said. "As you well know, I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ... but I will always want the people of this diocese to know that their bishop is one with them. So, yes, I am a Dallas Cowboys fan."

If and when the Cowboys play the Steelers, however, Burns admitted he would have a conflicted conscious.

"I would have to consult with my spiritual adviser [about who to root for]," he said.

Burns admitted during the press conference that his Spanish was not that good — Farrell spoke the language fluently — but indicated that he was eager to learn in order to relate better to the hundreds of thousands of Spanish-Catholics who fill the diocese's church pews every week.

Farrell, who is now the head of the Roman Catholic Church's department for laity, family and life, was named a cardinal by Pope Francis in October. He congratulated Burns on Tuesday.

"I have known Bishop Burns and worked with him at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for many years. His warm, outgoing and collaborative personality as well as his extensive experience in vocations, safe environment and parish ministry make him an excellent choice to lead the Diocese of Dallas," Farrell said. "I know he will be warmly welcomed in the diocese that I love so well."