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Pope Francis greets Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell

July 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholic priests lack “credibility” to prepare the faithful for the sacrament of marriage because they have never been married, according to the leader of the Vatican’s office for ministry to the family.

Priests are not the best people to train others for marriage, said Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

“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.”

The comments from Cardinal Farrell, who hails from the Dublin suburb of Drimnagh, came in a recent interview with Intercom magazine, a publication of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. His remarks were covered by The Irish Times and picked up by Crux.

The cardinal's assertion that lack of marital experience is a handicap conflicts with Pope Saint John Paul II's pivotal 1960 work Love and Responsibility. In it, then-Karol Wojtyla said that priests have a different and “wider” experience that allows them to minister to couples. He wrote: 

It is sometimes said that only those who live a conjugal life can pronounce on the subject of marriage, and only those who have experienced it can pronounce on love between man and woman. 

In this view, all pronouncements on such matters must be based on personal experience, so that priests and persons living a celibate life can have nothing to say on questions of love and marriage. Nevertheless they often do speak and write on these subjects. Their lack of direct personal experience is no handicap because they possess a great deal of experience at second-hand, derived from their pastoral work.

For in their pastoral work they encounter these particular problems so often, and in such a variety of circumstances and situations, that a different type of experience is created, which is certainly less immediate, and certainly ‘second-hand’, but at the same time very much wider. The very abundance of factual material on the subject stimulates both general reflection and the effort to synthesize what is known. 

This is not the first time Farrel has made such comments. Last September, while addressing a gathering of Catholic leaders in Ireland, the Cardinal said that priests have “no credibility when it comes to living the reality of marriage.” He said laity should organize and administer marriage prep programs.

Specifics of formation for the priesthood vary from diocese to diocese and between seminaries, as does marriage preparation from one diocese to another. However, the role of priests in preparing couples for marriage usually lies in them instilling the spiritual and theological components of matrimony in the faithful. Many dioceses enlist lay sponsor couples to prepare engaged couples for the day-to-day elements of married life, which is done in tandem with the spiritual preparation provided by priests.

Farrell was most recently bishop of Dallas since 2007 after having been an auxiliary bishop in Washington D.C. beginning in late 2001.

In August 2016, Pope Francis named him head of the new office Laity, Family and Life, which combined several other Vatican offices in the course of Francis’ reform of the Curia. 

In October of that year, Francis raised Farrell to the rank of cardinal, making him the highest-ranking American prelate serving in the Vatican.

The month following his being elevated to cardinal, Farrell said one of his immediate priorities would be to develop a marriage program based on the controversial Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

While cardinal-designate in October 2016 he had told the dissident National Catholic Reporter publication that the pope’s document “is faithful to the doctrine and to the teaching of the church,” that “It is carrying on the doctrine of Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II,” and “Basically (this) is the Holy Spirit speaking to us.”

Amoris Laetitia, in particular footnote 351, tacitly suggests that Catholics living in objectively sinful relationships may have access to the sacraments, which conflicts with Pope St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, which unequivocally states the Catholic Church’s established teaching that those divorced and remarried whose prior unions have not been declared null by the Church may not receive Holy Communion.

Also in November 2016, Farrell criticized Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines upholding Church teaching that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may not receive Holy Communion unless they “refrain from sexual intimacy,” as causing “division.” 

Farrell, as head of the Dicastry for Laity, Family and Life, is overseeing the World Meeting of Families taking place August 21-26 in Dublin.

The event is using Amoris Laetitia as its foundation, and critics have more than once called out either related material as espousing homosexual unions or other concerning signs that homosexuality will be promoted by the gathering.

Lay Catholics are conducting a separate conference concurrent with the World Meeting of Families promoting the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and family.

Farrell said last fall that the young people involved in the upcoming Youth Synod must say “how the Church needs to change its ways of doing things so we can be more attuned to the voice and to the hearts of the young.” 

The Youth Synod, another Vatican-conducted assembly, has also raised red flags, with its preparatory document seeming to embrace LGBT language – with Vatican officials endeavoring to lay responsibility with inclusion of the language on young people, while someone added it after youth had finished work on the document.

Farrell was also one of a number of high-ranking U.S. prelates to lend verbal backing to LGBT-affirming Jesuit Father James Martin’s recent contentious book calling for the Catholic Church to be more “welcoming” to LGBT-identifying persons.


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