Head of Dallas' Catholic Church Gets New Gig at the Vatican

Bishop Kevin Farrell, head of Dallas' Catholic Diocese for nearly a decade, is leaving North Texas for Rome. Farrell announced Wednesday that he's been invited by Pope Francis to head the Roman Catholic Church's new department for laity, family, and life. Farrell will take over the job on September 1 and become the highest ranking member of the American clergy at the Vatican.

Farrell's responsibilities in Rome will include providing for the spiritual well-being of rank-and-file Catholics around the world, something that Farrell said Wednesday has consistently served as a guiding principle for his ministry.

"I have always had in mind that, in the church, lay people needed to play an important role," Farrell said. "The people are the parish."

Prior to an initial phone call from the pope in May, Farrell said he had no idea that he was even being considered for a position in Italy. Soon after, the pope summoned him to the Vatican for a two-hour meeting where they discussed the new gig.

Both the phone call and the meeting were conducted in Spanish, reflecting the language skills Farrell has used to tried to bridge what he describes as a divide between Dallas' English- and Spanish-speaking Catholic communities. "I have never liked the idea of having two communities in one parish," said Farrell.  

During his time in Dallas, Farrell has drawn fire from the full breadth of North Texas' one-million person strong Catholic community. Earlier this year, the bishop angered many conservatives when he decried Texas' new open carry policy in a column posted on his prolific blog.

“Sadly, Texas has become the 45th state to embrace the cowboy mentality that permits the open carrying of guns,” Farrell wrote. “It is difficult to see how this new law allowing persons with concealed handgun licenses (CHL) to openly carry firearms can accomplish anything other than cause people to feel threatened and intimidated.”

Farrell, in accordance with an exception provided in the new law, continued to prohibit guns in the Dallas Diocese's churches.

In 2008, just before the election of President Obama over John McCain, Farrell angered some of his more liberal parishioners when he and the bishop of Fort Worth, Kevin Vann, wrote a letter calling abortion one of the defining issues of the campaign, seemingly calling out Catholics who had voiced their support for Obama.

The letter drew protesters to the diocese's offices in the month before the election, but Farrell never backed down.

The bishop had moments of high profile generosity. In October 2014, Farrell allowed the family of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first person to die of Ebola in the United States, to stay at a Dallas Diocese-owned cabin while their North Dallas apartment was tested and decontaminated.

Farrell, who said that he will spend his first few months on the job adjusting to the Vatican's steep learning curve, may have an easier time than most. His brother Brian is also a bishop and has served the last 14 years as the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity's number two official.

Dallas' next bishop will be selected by Pope Francis sometime in the coming months. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young