My first day back on the job, so to speak, started with a bang and that is today’s main piece of news from the Vatican – the official establishment of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, and the naming of a prominent American as its first head.

I faced the day with great satisfaction for another reason: I was finally able to open my suitcase. Our doorman Carlo is on vacation and his substitute did not know where Carlo keeps the tools that could have helped me remove the lock so I did the next best thing – I went to the neighborhood gelateria!

You see, a friend had told me yesterday that Giorgio, the owner of Capitano Cono ice cream shop, about 30 feet from my front door, had a ton of tools in his shop and could undoubtedly help me. Giorgio had taken a few days off and was not in his store yesterday but he was there today and assured me he’d be able to open my luggage – and he did! It felt like Christmas!

I try to exert a lot of self discipline when I walk by Capitano Cono – and that’s several times a day!– because their ice cream is superlative, as are other desserts they offer. I’ve written about it before and I always tell people to come here for gelato when they are in the vicinity of the Vatican.

And now, on to the news….

It is Wednesday and the Holy Father held the weekly general audience in a jam-packed Paul VI Hall and also met this afternoon with French President Francois Hollande but I want to focus on the news of the new Vatican dicastery.


The big news here today was the Apostolic Letter Moto Proprio by Pope Francis that officially establishes the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life. A big part of this story is that the Holy Father named Irish-born American Bishop Kevin Joseph Farrell of Dallas, Texas as prefect of the dicastery.


The title of the Latin language document, “Sedula Mater” means “caring mother.”

Bishop Farrell was ordained for the Legionaries of Christ but became incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington when he was named as an auxiliary in 2001. He was appointed to Dallas in 2007 and currently serves as treasurer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His brother is Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promiting Christian Unity.

The new Dicastery, said a Vatican statement, will be governed by special Statues and all responsibilities and functions held by the current Pontifical Councils for the Laity and for the Family will be transferred to the new office on September 1 when these two councils cease to exist.

Up to now, the heads of the nine Vatican offices known as congregations have been called ‘prefects.’ Those heading the various pontifical councils – 11 councils until recently – have the title of ‘president’. Pope Francis calls the new office a Dicastery and names its head a prefect but has not specified whether it will become a congregation.

In Sedula Mater Francis writes: “As a loving Mother, the Church has always throughout the centuries shown her concern for the laity, the family and life, by witnessing our Lord’s merciful love for humanity and we want to ensure that the riches of Jesus Christ are poured out appropriately and with profusion among the faithful.

“For this reason,” he continues, “we are taking prompt moves so that that the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia can respond to the situation of our times and adapt to the needs of the universal Church. In particular, our thoughts are turned towards the laity, the family and life to whom we wish to offer our support and help so that they are active witnesses of the Gospel.”

The family was the subject of two synods of bishops in 2014 and 2015 and of an entire series of Wednesday general audience catecheses between those two October meetings.

Outgoing president of the council for the family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, was named by Pope Francis as the new president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He was also appointed as Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The new president of this institute, named today by the Pope, is Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, up to now dean of the Theology Faculty of Northern

Pope Francis’ appointment of Bishop Farrell to an important new Vatican dicastery comes just over a month after he named another American to head a Vatican office when he appointed Greg Burke as director of the Holy See Press Office.