Pope Francis Names Cardinal Farrell as Camerlengo

Pope Francis Names Cardinal Farrell as Camerlengo February 14, 2019

The news dropped in the Vatican bulletin this morning:

The Pope has nominated Cardinal Jerin [Kevin] Joseph Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, as the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.

What is the camerlengo? Glad you asked. Wikipedia describes the job:

The camerlengo is responsible for the formal determination of the death of the reigning pope; the traditional procedure – abandoned centuries ago – was to call his baptismal name (e.g. “Albine, dormisne?”, meaning “[name], are you sleeping?”).  After the pope is declared dead, the camerlengo takes possession of the Ring of the Fisherman and cuts it with shears in the presence of the cardinals. This act symbolizes the end of the late Pope’s authority and prevents its use in forging documents. The camerlengo then notifies the appropriate officers of the Roman Curia and the dean of the College of Cardinals. He participates in the preparations for the conclave and the pope’s funeral.

In the past the camerlengo took possession of the pope’s last will and took responsibility for revealing its contents. Now the last will of the pope is given to the College of Cardinals and its content is revealed during the first meeting of the College of Cardinals. The only responsibility still in the camerlengo’s hands is to safekeep the last will of the pope until the College of Cardinals takes possession of it.

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; that task was placed in the hands of the College of Cardinals by Universi Dominici gregis (1996). His power is extremely limited, being merely enough to allow Church institutions to continue to operate and perform some basic functions without making any definitive decisions or appointments that are normally reserved to other powers delegated by the pope. Unlike the rest of the Roman Curia, the camerlengo retains his office during the sede vacante period and functions as the executive director of the Vatican’s operations, answerable to the College of Cardinals. This is primarily to carry out the College’s decisions with regard to the funeral of the late pope and the events leading up to the conclave. The only other people who keep their offices during this time are the Major Penitentiary, the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Papal Almoner, and the Vicars General for Rome and for the Vatican City State.

Cardinal Farrell, before working for the Vatican, was the bishop of Dallas, Texas. He grew up in Dublin, speaking Gaelic. But his name surfaced in the news a few months back in connection with disgraced Cardinal (now Bishop) Theodore McCarrick:

Revelations in July 2018 that Farrell’s mentor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was guilty of abusing many young seminarians and priests over several decades brought calls in countless American publications for Farrell to clarify whether he knew of the allegations and did nothing. McCarrick consecrated Farrell to the episcopacy in 2001 and Farrell served as auxiliary Bishop to McCarrick in Washington DC through 2006 before Farrell was transferred to Dallas.

Farrell is the first American cardinal to hold the post of camerlengo.

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