- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell has experienced the most joyous and difficult times of his life in his nearly 25 years in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

Recently tapped by Pope Benedict XVI to lead the Diocese of Dallas, Bishop Farrell was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the Washington archdiocese in 2002 — just before the Catholic sex-abuse scandal erupted across the country.

“It was a very difficult, most painful time of my life,” he told The Washington Times.

The 59-year-old native of Dublin will be installed May 1 in Dallas.

Bishop Farrell fondly recalls his time as pastor of Annunciation Parish in Northwest from October 2000 to March 2002.

“I eventually [did] what I always wanted to do in life, and that was to be a parish priest,” he said.

He served as associate pastor at three other parishes.

The bishop also directed Catholic Charities and the Spanish Catholic Center, an agency of the archdiocese that provides social services primarily to Hispanic immigrants.

Under the direction of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, then-archbishop of Washington, Bishop Farrell helped reform the archdiocese’s sex-abuse policy. He also counseled 84 abuse victims.

“They were hurting, and my goal was always to help them heal. I tried to … encourage them to move on in their lives,” he said. “Many times we find people who just want to stay stuck and dwell on the anger and dwell on the hurt and, you know, we’ve all got a life ahead of us.”

The bishop served as the main link between the archdiocese and the Child Protection Advisory Board, established by Cardinal McCarrick.

Shay Bilchik, former president of the Child Welfare League of America, chaired the board, which included one priest and child-welfare specialists from various fields.

He praised Bishop Farrell’s goal of addressing past abuses and preventing future abuse.

“How do you set up a whole prevention agenda?” Mr. Bilchik said. “How do you create better screening not just of staff or clergy but volunteers? What’s the ongoing training going to look like?”

Mr. Bilchik, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Systems Integration, noted that the archdiocese already had many of these policies in place “informally.”

Victims’ advocates dismiss the archdiocese’s response to sex abuse as a publicity ploy.

“A surprisingly high percentage of Catholic dioceses in the country claim to be the most sensitive, the most progressive, the most enlightened on this issue,” said David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Mr. Clohessy criticized the archdiocese’s work to defeat a bill in the Maryland Senate that temporarily would have extended the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits filed by sex-abuse victims.

“At the end of the day, [Bishop] Farrell’s focus is on protecting the secrets of the institution rather than safeguarding the innocence of children,” he said.

Maryland has no criminal statute of limitations, and victims still are able to receive help from the archdiocese with the civil statute in place, said archdiocesan Chancellor Jane Belford.

The archdiocese also sometimes pays for outside therapy.

“First and foremost has been our commitment to the healing of victims — those harmed by anyone acting in the name of the church,” Mrs. Belford said.

Bishop Farrell faced other challenges as well.

The region absorbed two waves of immigration during his tenure at the Spanish Catholic Center: the “Marielitos,” or Cuban exiles, and later, Central American immigrants — mostly from El Salvador and Nicaragua, he said.

“Immigrants are people who want to get on in life,” said Bishop Farrell, who is fluent in Spanish. “They find, however, when they get here, that life is difficult.”

Bishop Francisco Gonzalez, who was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese with Bishop Farrell, praised the latter’s work.

“He is dedicated to his ministry and to … caring for those who are less fortunate,” Bishop Gonzalez said.

The experience will come in handy in his new diocese of about 1 million Catholics — about twice the size of the Washington archdiocese.

Bishop Farrell said he looks to the three Washington archbishops under whom he worked — the late Cardinal James A. Hickey, Cardinal McCarrick and current Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl — for inspiration.

They’re “leaders of the Church in the United States,” he said. “I hope that I would follow their example.”

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