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Negative reactions to Cardinal’s assertion that priests ‘have no credibility’ on marriage prep

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July 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) -- Recent comments from the Vatican’s chief family official saying priests lack credibility in preparing engaged couples for marriage risk undermining priests in their work, some are saying. A number also point out that the remarks by the Pope Francis-appointed cardinal depart from the teaching of Pope St. John Paul II.

In a recent interview with the Irish Bishops’ conference’s Intercom magazine, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect for the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, said, “priests are not the best people to train others for marriage.”

“They have no credibility,” Farrell said, “they have never lived the experience; they may know moral theology, dogmatic theology in theory, but to go from there to putting it into practice every day.... they don’t have the experience.”

Some are asking why Farrell would suggest that what priests offer engaged couples - the critical aspects of spirituality, theology and prayer – does not count for something in preparing them for the sacrament of matrimony.

They wonder if the cardinal believes that lived experience is the only criteria for marriage preparation credibility, it doesn’t call into question Cardinal Farrell’s own credibility.

Among those posing questions in response to the cardinal’s remarks is Providence, RI, Bishop Thomas Tobin. “It seems fair to ask, then, if a celibate cleric has sufficient “credibility” to lead a dicastery devoted to laity, family and life,” Tobin tweeted last week.

One priest told LifeSiteNews Farrell’s comments will make it difficult for priests to have couples see them as a credible guide, and he wished the cardinal wouldn’t have said what he did, or at least nuanced it.

Writing in a piece for the National Catholic Register, Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, said that “It came as quite a shock” when Farrell “declared that priests are basically incompetent to do” the work of marriage prep.

“It’s one thing to make the obvious point that effective marriage preparation involves not just parish priests but well-trained married couples, something that happens in most parish, diocesan and online marriage-preparation courses in the United States,” said Landry. “Cardinal Farrell’s regrettable emphasis, however, was not to encourage lay involvement, but to undermine priests’ involvement and credibility — as if, because they’ve never been married, priests have nothing to contribute.”

Landry wrote that Farrell’s comments made him wonder how familiar Farrell is with St. John Paul II’s works on marriage, which take up Farrell’s objections “and persuasively refute them.”  

He cited then-Karol Wojtyla’s 1960 book Love and Responsibility, where the late pope said in part of priests and marriage prep, “A lack of their own personal experience does not hinder them since they possess a very rich indirect experience proceeding from pastoral work …”

“My chaste celibacy allows me to be more objective in talking about human sexuality in God’s plan…”

After detailing his extensive background conducting clergy workshops on marriage preparation, speaking on Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and preparing hundreds of couples for marriage, Landry, stated, “In all of this, rather than being an insurmountable handicap, my priesthood is actually an asset.”

He added, “My chaste celibacy allows me to be more objective in talking about human sexuality in God’s plan than someone whose experiences are marked too much by personal experience.”

Edmund Adamus, who was director of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Westminster in England for almost 15 years, and is now Diocesan Schools Commissioner for the Portsmouth, England, Diocese, told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that Farrell’s remarks do not correspond with his experience in marriage preparation.

“In a career spanning 30 years of ministry and family-life apostolate in the Church, I have always found the contribution of the priest to be invaluable in the task of both preparing couples for marriage as well as supporting and sustaining couples through difficult times,” he said.

More priests protest

Dominican Father Thomas Petri, vice president and academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., also questioned the Cardinal’s statement. “If we’re going to insist that priests have no credibility with regard to marriage, then we not only wash away the dogmatic and moral theology of the sacrament, but we also must, therefore, insist that the faithful should not approach priests for counsel on marriage,” he told Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Another priest of the Dallas Diocese, where Farrell was bishop from 2007-2016, told CNA the cardinal’s remarks led to confusion and that “comments like this break your heart.”

Father William Dailey, director of the Notre Dame-Newman Centre for Faith and Reason in Dublin, Ireland, told CNA that, “taken at face value,” Farrell’s comments undermine “the dedicated efforts of some many priests working with love and dedication to form couples across the Church.”

“In charity,” added Dailey, “let’s hope the cardinal misspoke or was misquoted and that he can either enlarge his remarks, so as to make a different point, or retract what he said as not being what he actually thinks.”

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