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Francis has shown confidence in Farrell long before new appointment

The decision by Pope Francis to name Cardinal Farrell to the post of Camerlengo has already raised a few eyebrows.

Pope Francis walks past Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, at the Knock Shrine in Knock, Ireland, Aug. 26, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis named Cardinal Kevin Farrell to the post of Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church on Thursday. With the appointment, Pope Francis has filled a post that had been vacant since the death of Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran in July of last year.

A 71-year-old native of Ireland and naturalized US citizen, Farrell served as Bishop of Dallas before becoming Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life in 2016, a position he retains as he comes into the Camerlengo’s office.

The position of Camerlengo was once one of great power. It remains one of a very few curial offices, the terms of which do not cease immediately upon the vacancy of the See of Rome. These days, however, the position is mostly — though not entirely — symbolic.

There are some duties still attached to the office of Camerlengo, including the direction of Papal funeral arrangements if the vacancy of the See of Rome is due to the decease of the former Pope. The Camerlengo is also charged with the protection and administration of the rights and property of the Holy See during the interregnum, though his powers are minimal: he cannot make policy, but only makes sure the bureaucratic gears continue to turn until the new Pope is elected.

The Camerlengo is the president and linchpin of the “Particular Congregation” that has a revolving membership and manages day-to-day affairs. In consultation with the senior members of each of the Cardinalatial orders: Bishops, Priests, Deacons — which are orders of rank within the College of Cardinals, rather than an indication of degree of Holy Orders — the Camerlengo also establishes the date on which the meetings ahead of the Conclave — the General Congregations — are to begin.

The decision to name Cardinal Farrell to the post of Camerlengo has already raised a few eyebrows.

Cardinal Farrell went through formation and was ordained to the priesthood as a member of the Legionaries of Christ, founded by the notorious Fr Marcial Maciel, who used the priestly society to create and maintain both a respectable façade and a source of income for his perverse proclivities. Maciel allegedly abused scores of victims, including minors, seminarians, and his own illegitimate children, which he had with at least two different women, whom he seduced under assumed names and false pretenses.

Though rumors of Maciel’s moral turpitude swirled for decades, and had certainly reached the Vatican by the late 1990s, Pope St. John Paul II never disciplined the priest, who enjoyed his favor for many years. Maciel was finally asked to step down as the head of the Legion in January of 2005, just months before John Paul II died.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI prohibited Maciel from exercising any public ministry and ordered him to a life of prayer and penance. In 2009, Benedict authorized a special investigation of the Legion, called an Apostolic Visitation. Maciel’s forced retirement and penance had already led Vatican watchers to wonder whether the Legion might be suppressed. Benedict, however, decided against suppression.

Cardinal Farrell left the Legion before the mid-1980s. In 2016, Farrell told the Irish Times, “I left the Legionaries because I had intellectual differences with them.” Farrell also told the Irish Times he never knew anything about Maciel’s wickedness and duplicity. “I never knew anything back then,” he said. “I worked in Monterrey,” Farrell explained, “and maybe I would have met Maciel once or twice, but I never suspected anything.”

In 1984, then-Fr. Farrell joined the clergy of the Archdiocese of Washington. In 2001, not a year after Theodore McCarrick became Archbishop of Washington, then-Msgr. Farrell — who was already appointed Vicar General — was chosen to become an auxiliary bishop for the DC archdiocese. Farrell served as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia until 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI made him Bishop of Dallas.

When the McCarrick scandal hit the papers in June of 2018, Cardinal Farrell faced media scrutiny because of his record of service under the former Archbishop of Washington. Farrell repeatedly said he never suspected anything was amiss with his former principal. “What Cardinal McCarrick was doing here, there and everywhere and all over the world, didn’t enter into my daily routine of running the archdiocese of Washington,” Farrell told the AP in July of last year.

During his time in Washington, DC, Cardinal Farrell lived with McCarrick and other clerics of the archdiocese in a residential facility near Dupont Circle, though he told the AP, “Never once did I even suspect,” McCarrick of anything untoward. “Now, people can say ‘Well you must be a right fool that you didn’t notice.’ I must be a right fool,” Farrell continued, “but I don’t think I am — and that’s why I feel angry.”

Pope Francis had shown great confidence in Cardinal Farrell’s abilities long before this most recent appointment.

In his position as Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, Farrell not only filled the top billet in one of the “super-dicasteries” of Francis’ signature curial reform, but spearheaded the Vatican-side organization efforts for the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin. Francis also made him a key figure in the organization of the 2018 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. Farrell also took a lead role in World Youth Day celebrations, and got the nod to announce that Lisbon, Portugal, would be the venue for the next iteration of the event in 2022.

En route to Rome from Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Francis wondered aloud whether he’d be Pope next year. Asked about possible travel to other majority-Muslim countries, Francis replied, “[I]nvitations have arrived from other Muslim countries but there’s not time this year. We’ll see next year. [Whether] I or another Peter, someone will go.” It isn’t the first time he’s engaged in similar speculation. En route to Rome from Krakow after World Youth Day 2016, Francis told a reporter, “If I don’t go, Peter will be there [in Panama],” all the same.

With the appointment of a new Cardinal Camerlengo, whose office only activates during an interregnum, that speculation is likely to increase — even though the filling of a Vatican post is about as run-of-the-mill as one can get, and hardly a reliable indicator of the papal frame-of-mind. In any case, Pope Francis has chosen Cardinal Farrell to manage things after he’s gone.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 190 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. Cardinal Kevin Farrell is openly in favor of the Pontiff’s obvious inclusive policy toward adult male homosexuals in the Church, which policy explains the Feb Synod charade and Farrell’s meteoric rise in stature from Legionary refugee favorite of McCarrick thereafter of Pope Francis. What the Camerlengo appointment signifies is specificity for managing the transition following Francis’ departure from the papacy. An insurance policy that Pope Francis’ new gospel of accommodation of worldly values remains intact. I end my comment with high decibel words from Cardinal Mueller’s Manifesto. “To keep silent about these truths of the faith is the fraud of Antichrist. ‘He will deceive those who are lost by all means of injustice; for they have closed themselves to the love of the truth by which they should be saved'” (2 Thess 2:10). Let those who have ears hear.

      • Florence it appears your response is addressed to me. Insofar as Cardinal Farrell’s personal relationship with Marcial Maciel when Farrell was a Legionary what I’ve read is hearsay. I refer you to Rod Dreher’s American Conservative website who has interviewed an alleged former member of the legionaries who claims knowledge of Farrell’s relationship with Maciel.

        • Farrell lied when he said that he met Maciel once or twice in his 20 or so years in the legionaries. He was one of those fair haired and good-looking young seminarians with whom Maciel used to play dominoes. How do I know? I was a member of the legionaries and saw it with my own eyes. What can be made of that? I don’t know. He wasn’t one of Maciel’s greatest favorites. However, if he lied to the reporter on that, how can anything else he says be believed. Once someone is caught lying, then nothing else he says can be believed.

    • Thank you, Fr Morello! We need your voice and others like you. Please continue to speak. Please pray of me as I will pray for you!

  2. By appointing Farrell, a protege of McCarrick to such an important position, Pope Francis has once again shown he doesn’t take the abuse crisis seriously, has no intention of correcting the destructive path he is trying to take the Church, and again confirmed that he is part of the problem, not the solution, in respect of the abuse crisis.

    It seems his resignation is increasingly the only way the Church will find a way forward out of this crisis.

    • Sadly, I believe you are correct. However, Francis has stacked the College of Cardinals with those favorable toward homosexuality as the majority of voting eligible cardinals have been appointed by Francis. We must pray that there will begin a “mass resignation” of bishops and cardinals that knew of the sinful acts of McCarrick and
      did nothing. These prelates must resign and commit themselves to a life of prayer and penance. We must pray HARD for this! I suggest the prayer in Appendix I of the book “In Sinu Jesu” called the The Chaplet of Reparation or Offering of the Precious Blood for Priests. It can be said on regular rosary beads and is efficacious for what is needed now. Don’t get me wrong. I love the priesthood, the office of the bishops, the cardinals and the pope, but I love God more! Please look into this book. It will help.

  3. Undoubtedly this appointment as the biggest middle finger Bergoglio has pitched our way yet. Others have been worse, far more grave, but none so blatant. None so in your face.
    Perhaps I am in the throes of Catholic pathological denial, but I can’t help but believe there are silent members of the episcopate who are compiling a portfolio of outrages of which we are unaware and others of which we would not have an understanding, which is eventually going to blow the lid of the dumpster the Bergoglian cartel.
    The man is off the rails. This is one rabid dog, and every dog has his day.

    • Thank you, James! We need voices like you and will continue to do so! Please pray for the priests! I suggest the book “In Sinu Jesu” and the prayer in Appendix I called the Offering of the Precious Blood for Priest! It is very efficacious for what the Church needs now! Please look into it! Thank you again!

  4. Interesting. These days, few cardinals, especially those named by Francis, really know one another well. But with this appointment, the one cardinal who will be known to all of those voting in the next conclave is — Cardinal Farrell.

    Pray for the Church.

  5. The article on Cardinal Farrell is interesting, as are the comments of Pope Francis that he, or another Peter, will do this or that or visit somewhere in the world. Pope Francis, like Pope Emeritus XVI inherited a difficult legacy. It would be wrong to claim either man was not a fit successor to St Peter, as the sexual abuse scandals had engulfed the church for many decades, even before Pope St John Paul II’s time. When Pope Francis finally cleans out the stables, he may retire and allow a new broom in. The role of Holy father is a difficult position and requires youth, vigor and strength to discharge the many complex issues that arise. The coming year will see the entire sex abuse scandals addressed and then the church may move forward with less baggage than it currently has hindering it’s mission.

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  2. Cardinals McCarrick, Wuerl, and Farrell: A Web of Sex Abuse, Bribes, Financial Misconduct and Cover-ups | The Open Tabernacle: Here Comes Everybody

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