Ireland has a nominee for Pope for the first time in years
Published 26/11/2016 | 02:30
It seems that Irish influence in the Vatican is not on the wane. It might in fact be in the ascendancy, advanced by the rise of two clerical high-fliers from Dublin who happen also to be brothers.
Last weekend, Pope Francis consecrated Irish-born Bishop Kevin J Farrell, Prefect of the newly established Vatican department for Laity, Family and Life, as a cardinal - making him the highest ranking Irishman in the Vatican today.
Should the newly minted cardinal feel homesick for his Irish roots, he can share some nostalgic memories with his older brother, Bishop Brian Farrell, who now works a stone's throw away in the Vatican as Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Vice-President of the Commission for Religious Relations with Jews.
The Farrell brothers, from Drimnagh in Dublin, are among six Irish-born prelates serving on Vatican commissions.
The others are Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly, Cardinal Sean Brady and Bishop Paul Tighe.
It must be quite a novelty within the Vatican's walls to have two brothers serving at the same time in such prestigious roles at the heart of the Roman curia.
According to the anecdotes, like any Irish family, the Farrells are not adverse to a bit of slagging.
It seems Kevin (69) is happy to remind his older brother Brian (73) that though the elder of the two made it to the Vatican first, he was actually made a bishop first, when Pope St John Paul II appointed him as an auxiliary to the diocese of Washington in 2001.
The two Farrells grew up in a household of four boys in Galtymore Park in Drimnagh and attended the local Christian Brothers school.
As youngsters, they served Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel church, where their mother was a daily Mass-goer and a volunteer in the McAuley Centre, which looks after elderly parishioners.
When he was 19 in 1966, Kevin Farrell joined the conservative Legion of Christ, an order Brian had entered in 1961 and for which he was ordained a priest in 1969.
Although Kevin later left the order and joined the diocesan priesthood in the USA, Brian Farrell remains a member of the Legion of Christ to this day.
The order suffered a tarnished reputation in light of a series of abuse scandals linked to its founder, Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado.
The Mexican priest ruled the Legion with an iron fist and imposed great secrecy on its members from 1941 until 2005. Then, Pope Benedict XVI ordered him to a life of prayer and repentance for his sexual abuse of seminarians, his fathering children with a number of women, and his known drug addiction.
In 2010, Bishop Brian Farrell, who acted as superior of the Legion's US novitiate from 1970 to 1976, was appointed as one of four advisors to a Vatican-appointed investigation team that reorganised the wealthy but dysfunctional order.
In an interview published by the 'National Catholic Register' last year, the two Farrell brothers said that their vocations were born of faithful parents, a mother who attended Mass every day, close relations with a tight-knit community of hard-working priests in Drimnagh and volunteering as altar boys.
"My mother, all her life, prayed that God might call one of her sons to the priesthood," said Bishop Brian Farrell.
"She had a deep relationship with God. A very personal relationship with God. She talked about God with ease and love."
By bestowing a red hat on Kevin Farrell, the Pontiff was not acknowledging his leadership as Bishop of Washington and subsequently of Dallas. Pope Francis's decision was also a nod of approval for Farrell's public defence of the Pontiff's new document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, amid a number of criticisms made by conservative elements in the Church's upper echelons.
Cardinal Farrell now joins the select group of prelates who will become the men tasked to choose Francis's successor.
Indeed, Ireland for the first time in years has a 'papabile' candidate among the Church's cardinal electors.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is busy preparing for his official meeting with Pope Francis next week to formally invite the Pontiff to visit Ireland in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families.
A spokesperson for the archdiocese of Dublin told the Irish Independent that Cardinal Farrell is already working with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as the countdown begins to the high-profile international Catholic event, and the possible papal visit that hosting such an event will bring.
She recalled that both Cardinal Kevin and his brother, Bishop Brian, attended the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 2012, another international Catholic gathering which proved much more successful and popular with participants than the doomsayers predicted.
Cardinal Kevin Farrell celebrated his first Mass as Cardinal last Monday, in a chapel in the Vatican dedicated to Mary, Queen of Families.
He told family members from Ireland and 100 representatives from the Diocese of Dallas that the setting was appropriate, since he is now in charge of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life.
With his star on the rise, expect to see much more of Cardinal Kevin Farrell over the next two years.