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Cardinal Kevin Farrell is the new Vatican chamberlain

By Susan Gately - 16 February, 2019

In event of the death or resignation of the Pope, the Irish-born prelate who oversaw World Meeting of Families in Dublin will be Vatican city's acting sovereign.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Camerlengo and Prefect of the Holy See’s Department for the Laity, Family and Life.

An Irish-born Cardinal will step in to run the Vatican in an emergency, such as the death or resignation of Pope Francis.

The Holy See announced on Thursday that Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, 71, is to be Camerlengo (Chamberlain), becoming the most senior Irish man at the Vatican.

Nominated to the role by Pope Francis, the responsibilities of Camerlengo include overseeing the preparations for a papal conclave and managing the administration of the Holy See in the period between a Pope’s death or resignation and the election of a new Pope.

While holding this position, Cardinal Farrell will remain on as Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

The last to hold the role of Camerlengo was Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and it fell vacant on his death in July. In order to take up his role, Cardinal Farrell will have to take an oath before Pope Francis, who will give him a sceptre, symbolising the authority of the position.

Kevin Farrell was born in Dublin in 1947, one of an Irish-speaking family of four sons. (His older brother, Bishop Brian Farrell, 73, currently serves as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.) Educated by the Christian Brothers in Drimnagh, he entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ aged 19.

He studied theology at the University of Salamanca in Spain, the Gregorian University and the Angelicum in Rome, as well as business and administration at the University of Notre Dame in the United States.

Ordained in 1978, he served as chaplain at the Catholic University of Monterrey in Mexico while also acting as general administrator of the Legionaries of Christ with responsibilities for seminaries and schools in Italy, Spain and Ireland.

In 1984, by which time he had left the Legionaries of Christ, he became a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in the United States, and in 1986 succeeded Fr Seán O’Malley (who later became Cardinal Archbishop of Boston) as director of the archdiocese’s Spanish Catholic Centre.

In December 2001 he was named auxiliary bishop of Washington. In this role he worked alongside Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, against whom abuse allegations have been brought. In an interview with CNS in July 2018, Cardinal Farrell denied any knowledge of the abuse allegations against Cardinal McCarrick.

“I worked in the chancery in Washington and never, no indication, none whatsoever,” he said. Cardinal Farrell was very involved in investigating cases of clerical sexual abuse for the Archdiocese of Washington, particularly in the wake of the implementation of the United States bishops’ 2002 Dallas Charter on child protection.

“I was shocked, overwhelmed; I never heard any of this before in the six years I was there with him,” said Cardinal Farrell.

In March 2007 Cardinal Farrell was appointed Bishop of Dallas, and nine years later, prefect of the Vatican’s newly created Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, and created Cardinal by Pope Francis in November 2016. In this role he oversaw the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August 2017, and the recent World Youth Day in Panama.

The Camerlengo is one of two head officials of the Roman Curia who do not lose their office while the papacy is vacant. Regulated by the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus and Universi Dominici Gregis, the Camerlengo administers Church finances and property during the interregnum. Under the latter document, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church must officially ascertain the Pope’s death and must also place seals on the Pope’s study and bedroom, and later “the entire papal apartment.”

Until a successor Pope can be elected, the Camerlengo serves as Vatican City’s acting sovereign. He is no longer, however, responsible for the government of the Catholic Church when the papacy is vacant – under Universi Dominici Gregis that task was placed in the hands of the College of Cardinals.

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