An answer to Cardinal Farrell, from Pope John Paul II

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 13, 2018

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Vatican dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, fears that priests “have no credibility” when they attempt to prepare Catholic couples for marriage.

St. John Paul II disagrees. From the introduction to his book, Love and Responsibility:

Yet priests, as well as the religious, are often denied the competency to speak on sexual matters, precisely on the grounds that they do not personally encounter them the way that lay married people do, that they do not possess personal experience in that field. Due to that fact it must be underscored that it is precisely experience—the indirect experience provided by pastoral work—that is one of the two sources of this book. It is granted that this experience is not personal but “alien” instead, although at the same time it is more extensive than any exclusively personal experience.

But there’s a catch, I’m afraid. When he refers to “the indirect experience provided by pastoral work,” I have no doubt that the late Pontiff is referring to his hours spent in confessionals, hearing about the challenges of married life, from the lips of Catholics struggling—and failing—to meet the ideal.

So I propose an amendment to Cardinal Farrell’s observation. Priests will “have no credibility” to prepare couples for marriage unless they spend time hearing confessions.

h/t to @marcosolzi

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jul. 15, 2018 1:57 PM ET USA

    According to Cardinal Farrell's logic, an oncologist who never had cancer has no credibility treating a cancer patient, or a mentally healthy psychiatrist has no credibility treating a mentally sick patient. Thus, we also appear to have a paradigm shift in logic these days.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Jul. 14, 2018 3:03 PM ET USA

    When I was considering becoming Catholic, I asked a priest, "So what qualifies you to council married couples?". He replied, "Man, I've spent so much time hearing confessions that I really know human nature!".

  • Posted by: LCRich - Jul. 14, 2018 12:01 PM ET USA

    Where is the Vatican trying to lead us? Priests have much theological and spiritual knowledge to share with engaged couples and certainly should also have practical knowledge from hearing many confessions from married couples who may be struggling in their marriage. I think that marriage preparation counseling is a very important role of Priests.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jul. 14, 2018 9:11 AM ET USA

    If Phil's amendment is correct, then EF priests must possess vast experience in counseling the troubled and doubtful because of their many hours of hearing confession before every Mass. Marriage preparation is essentially counseling the doubtful--those inexperienced in properly living the Catholic duties and joys of the marital walk together.

  • Posted by: vjenkins71201 - Jul. 13, 2018 10:43 PM ET USA

    And especially all the time Pope St. John Paul spent with couples when he was in Poland before becoming pope. His group must have discussed marital issues during their times together on the various outings in the mountains.