Bishop Holley Goes To Graceland – Pope Taps DC Aux. for Memphis

(Updated below with presser video/installation date.)

Roman Noon, Tuesday 23 August – As Cardinal Theodore McCarrick gradually returns to kicking after knee-replacement surgery earlier this month, the hits just keep on coming for his onetime top aides. (Put another way, Ted's reaping the "Wuerlwind"... still in all, as "get well" gifts go, it's hard to beat.)

Six days after dear Uncle's lead deputy in Washington was called to Rome as head of a Vatican dicastery, at Noon today – in an unusual August nod – the Pope named the cardinal's last "son," the veteran DC auxiliary Martin Holley, 61, as fifth bishop of Memphis in succession to the venerable Terry Steib SVD, a prelate of some 32 years and the longtime convener of the African-American bishops, who reached the retirement age in May 2015.

An exceedingly warm, kind, ever-smiling figure, Holley spent his life and priesthood as a pastor in the Florida Panhandle until his 2004 appointment as Washington's customary auxiliary with primary responsibility for its sizable Black church. Notably, before heading north the Pope's pick was assigned to the vocations office in his home diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee – a particularly key area for the 80,000-member Memphis church, which has boasted a disproportionately high number of seminarians over recent years, ordaining no less than five priests in 2014.

Among other unique attributes of the western Tennessee fold, Steib's stewardship of the diocesan schools is likewise a particular standout. In a move practically unheard of elsewhere, the retiring bishop reopened six shuttered inner-city schools in 1998, entrusting their future to a first-of-its-kind partnership model whose success has led to attempts to imitate it far afield. (Here's lookin' at you, Mary McDonald.)

On another front, as the bench's last active heir of one John Lawrence May – the St Louis archbishop/bench chief whose liturgical preferences were famously summarized as "wine, women and song" – Steib has been increasingly focused on the church's outreach to gays and lesbians, chartering one of the few diocesan offices dedicated to ministry to the same-sex attracted and, in January, devoting his last pastoral letter to what he termed "a new season" in the church, marked by a "compassionate response" to those in irregular situations vis a vis church teaching: a stance heavily echoed three months later by the Pope himself in Amoris Laetitia.

A Divine Word Father born in Louisiana, Steib became the first African-American bishop in the long history of St Louis Catholicism on his 1984 appointment as an auxiliary there, taking the reins in Memphis eight years later in succession to the Benedictine Daniel Buechlein upon his return to Indianapolis.

While Buechlein's own predecessor along the Mississippi – the princely Francis Stafford – would go on to become a cardinal in the Curia, as never before Steib's tenure saw Rome's spotlight fall on Memphis' homegrown clergy with the rise of Peter Sartain, a son of Graceland's Whitehaven neighborhood, who would be launched over a decade from being Steib's Chancellor to the helm of the million-member Seattle archdiocese.

SVILUPPO: Per Memphis Chancery, the installation has been scheduled for Wednesday, October 19th, to be held in the city's Convention Center.

Meanwhile, keeping to his custom for the province he's led for the last decade, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville made the trip west to preside at this morning's presser. His presidency of the USCCB now in its home-stretch before wrapping in November, Kurtz marked another milestone last week – his 70th birthday on Thursday, so belated auguri to the Father-Prez.

All that said, here's fullvid of Holley's introduction to his new charge:


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.


For K-Far, The "Home" Office – Pope Taps Big D Prelate To Launch Family-Laity Super-Arm

SVILUPPO – 3pm ET: Fullvid of appointment presser and more analysis.

7am ET – For a good while now, you've known that the founding head of the new Vatican super-office for Laity, Family and Life would be an American... and indeed it is – at Roman Noon this Wednesday, the Pope named Bishop Kevin Farrell, the 68 year-old head of Dallas' 1.3 million-member fold since 2007, as the first Prefect of the combined entity, formally designated a "Dicastery," which officially launches on September 1st.

Now the ranking US prelate in the Roman Curia – where his brother, Brian, has long served as bishop-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity – even as the move short-circuits the long-held wish for the nation's sixth-largest city to be elevated as seat of a third metropolitan province in Texas, the Vatican statement announcing the move conspicuously did not include Farrell's elevation to the rank of archbishop, which has always been customary practice for appointments of this kind.

While the pick of the Dublin-born ex-Legionary of Christ might come as a surprise in some quarters, the threads explaining it can be gleaned on several fronts.

First, and most crucially, while no one would see the low-key yet driven (and, quietly, quite funny) Irishman as some kind of wild-haired progressive, he has been notably unstinting in his affection for and loyalty to the reigning Pope; among other examples, Farrell used his homily at February's ordination of his latest auxiliary, Greg Kelly, to lay out Francis' vision of being a bishop in depth.

Secondly, by every account Farrell has succeeded at the high-wire challenge that marked the first stage of his tenure in the Metroplex – unifying a roiled Dallas church after the divisive tenure of his predecessor, Bishop Charles Grahmann, when the diocese's staggering growth (a more than sixfold increase of Catholics since 1990) was coupled with an eruption of abuse scandals. In addition, with Hispanic fluency steeped in Mexico from his days in the Legion, the bishop has has successfully navigated the Latin and Anglo realities of the mammoth diocese, whose 67 parishes are effectively teeming at the seams, and the replacement of parish churches with significantly larger new buildings has been a common occurrence. (He would open new parishes, he's often said, if only he had the priests – or, as one pastor memorably put the crunch, "We're forbidden to die.")

Third, he enjoys close ties and clear goodwill among four prominent figures in Francis' orbit: having served as vicar-general and auxiliary of Washington under Cardinals Theodore McCarrick and Donald Wuerl until his southern transfer, the sister of the ever-influential head of Francis' "Gang of 9," Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, lives in Dallas, while the work that brought him to DC to begin with saw him succeed then-Bishop Sean O'Malley as director of the capital's Centro Catolico Hispano, which the Capuchin founded a decade earlier as Latinos began to arrive in the city en masse, only leaving the role on his appointment to the Virgin Islands.

Lastly, having been a key figure in the USCCB boiler room over his 14 years on the bench – leading various elements of the conference's temporalities and serving as its executive-level treasurer – while Farrell is an administrative whiz and knows the church's tendency to be obsessed with process, he doesn't exactly revel in it and understands its place as an element of the greater good. Beyond the sheer challenge of setting up a new ministry that will combine two pontifical councils – and likely bring its share of tough decisions – the organizational element is critical as the combined dicastery will oversee the preparations for the global church's two largest regular events: World Youth Day and the World Meeting of Families, the latter's next edition to be held in 2018 in the new prefect's native Dublin.

On top of all this, having become adept at social media with his own blog and Twitter feed, even if the Pope's pick isn't the type who'd be knocking over people to get to a camera, Farrell's always played well in the spotlight. That public role will likewise be of high import given his new post's natural role of serving as the church's lead spokesman on family issues, and in particular at the helm of the dicastery most pointedly tasked with the ongoing implementation of Amoris Laetitia, as a palpable amount of head-banging over the Pope's Post-Synodal Exhortation continues four months since its release.

In tandem with today's appointment, Francis published a motu proprio formally establishing the new Dicastery and suppressing the respective Pontifical Councils for Laity and the Family, merging the duo alongside the Pontifical Academy for Life into Farrell's office. In the text, the Pope writes of his desire that the church "offer sustenance and help" to laity and families, "that they might be active witnesses of the Gospel in our time" and might "make manifest the love of the merciful Lord toward all humanity."

On a related note, given the vivid debate among canonists over which rank the consolidated office should hold as it exercises some jurisdiction – which, in the strict sense, is the mark of a Curial congregation – only today has the generic, unusual designation of "Dicastery" emerged for the new organ, which presages a further breakdown of the traditional ranking of the offices as Francis' overhaul of the Holy See's governing structures continues apace.

Lastly for now, as some fireworks are bound to ensue in the top rank with the appointment for a now-vacant Dallas church – where Farrell was already laying the groundwork to receive another auxiliary – it bears recalling that, with the new Prefect to be aided by three Secretaries for each of the new office's areas of competence, the legislation establishing the Dicastery provides that (in a first for a top Curial organ) the lead deputies need not be clergy, but may likewise be named from among religious or the laity.

SVILUPPO: In a statement posted on his blog – after plugging Amoris right off the bat – Farrell hinted at a rapid appointment of his successor in Dallas, adding that, as sole auxiliary, Kelly will be apostolic administrator during the vacancy... and, quite possibly, his top choice for the permanent nod:
I am extremely humbled that our Holy Father Pope Francis has selected me to lead this newly formed dicastery. I look forward to being part of the important work of the universal Church in the promotion of the laity and the apostolate of the laity and for the pastoral care of the family in accordance with the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, and the support of human life.

While I am grateful for the Holy Father’s confidence in me, I meet this news with mixed emotions.

Dallas has been my home for 10 years and, from the beginning, I quickly grew to love the beautiful people and culture here. The strong faith, kindness and generosity of the people in the Diocese of Dallas surpassed all of my expectations. My brother priests were among the first to welcome me and I am extremely grateful for their collaboration, friendship, wise counsel and prayers. A bishop can get nothing of significance done in a diocese without the hard work and cooperation of the pastors, priests, diocesan staff and people. Together, I believe we have accomplished many goals, and put others in motion, that will continue to build up the Catholic Church in North Texas.

I cannot express enough my gratitude for all that the priests, staff and people have done and continue to do for me and the Diocese of Dallas. I know our Holy Father is working, as we speak, to find the right man to serve as the new chief shepherd. I am confident that, upon my departure, Bishop Greg Kelly will handle the needs of the diocese in the interim. Please pray for him. I also ask that you please pray for me as I begin this next unexpected chapter of my priesthood. May God continue to bless the Diocese of Dallas.