Cardinal: priests have no credibility to prepare couples for marriage

Cardinal Kevin Farrell is prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life

Cardinal Kevin Farell. (Credit: Daniel Ibanez)

The Vatican official leading the Church’s office for laity, family, and life has said that priests do not have the credibility or experience to prepare couples for marriage. The official made similar remarks to Catholic leaders in September 2017.

During an interview with the Irish Catholic magazine Intercom, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, said that “priests are not the best people to train others for marriage.”

“They have no credibility; 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 cardinal added.

Last September, speaking to a convention of Catholic leaders in Ireland, Farrell said that priests have “no credibility when it comes to living the reality of marriage,” calling for laity to organize and administer marriage preparation programs.

Born in Ireland and ordained a priest in 1978 as a member of the Legion of Christ, Farrell eventually relocated to Washington, DC, serving as director of Washington’s Spanish Catholic Center, before becoming the archdiocese’s finance officer in 1989.

In 2002, he became an auxiliary bishop of Washington, serving as moderator of the curia and vicar general, a chief advisory role, to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, with whom Farrell lived in a renovated parish building in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood.

In 2007, Farrell was appointed the Bishop of Dallas. He became the first prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in September 2016. The office was established when Pope Francis merged the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, calling for a streamlined office focused on marriage preparation, family formation, and promoting lay apostolates.

Farrell became a cardinal in November 2016.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.

“The laity run the Church”

Priests have no credibility when it comes to training people for marriage, according to the most senior Irish cleric in the Vatican.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, from Drimnagh in Dublin and prefect (head) of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life said “priests are not the best people to train others for marriage.

Clericalism is dead, the Cardinal behind the World Meeting of Families in Dublin next month also said, “not because we’ve done anything to kill it, but out of sheer numbers.” In Dallas, where he was Bishop from 2007 to 2016, “we have a million and a half Catholics and 75 priests, with a 45 to 50 per cent rate of (Mass) attendance.Those 75 priests are not going to be interested in organizing marriage meetings,” he said.

“We have to worry about the 99 per cent, about the baptised, and not worry about the other things we have been obsessed with.” (Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, with a population of 1.15 million Catholics, has 413 diocesan and religious priests).

Cardinal Farrell was speaking in an interview with Intercom, a magazine published by Ireland’s Catholic bishops. “The basis of all human life is the family, but in some countries the Church is so clerical,” he said.

But there were, however, “countries where the laity run the Church. In my own experience as Bishop of Dallas, we had one priest in a parish where 10,000 people would attend Mass at the weekend. We have parishes that have a $20 million annual budget. No priest is going to be able to run a parish of that magnitude without competent lay people.”

Full story at The Irish Times.


  1. Not when they’re gay. Not when they diddle boys. The cardinal lived with and worked for Cardinal McCarrick in Washington, D.C. He knew what was going on, what “Uncle Ted” was doing. But he did nothing.

    But the cardinal doesn’t have to worry about a heavy workload in preparing couples for marriage: thanks to the loss of the Church’s credibility because of the first two reasons I stated, few couples are marrying in or even attending church anymore.

    Besides, it’s not the priest’s role to prepare a couple for married life. His role is to ensure that the couple know what the Church’s doctrines are about marriage and sex, conduct a canonical preparation and ensure the man and woman are capable of validly exchanging vows. Life…

  2. Is this a lefthanded way of suggesting priests should be able to marry?

    • David J Panasiti says:

      They should be allowed to marry as all the apostles were as well as all priests until the early 2nd century when humans changed it all. I just don’t understand why it has never been changed back.

  3. helen wheels says:

    Dr. Phil or Oprah perhaps ??

  4. So, Your Eminence, you’re essentially saying to engaged couples “I have nothing to offer or teach you about Christian marriage.”

    What utter poppycock.

    Let us pray for Cardinal Farrell.

  5. Well, duh! I think the good Cardinal is spot on with two points but misses badly on the third.
    In my humble opinion, for some clergy, clericalism is far from dead. Some clergy exude a sanctimonious holier than thou attitude.
    On the other hand, I totally agree the vast majority of priests lack the credibility for marriage prep. The exceptions are widowers who then are ordained or those married ministers who convert from Protestant denominations. Also competent pastors have relied for decades on the wise counsel of male and female laity in the secular aspects of a parish. Those who dont risk serious trouble.

  6. What does one poster have against those of us who use our left hand?

  7. Fr. John says:

    This is a wreckless statement. Hate to say it, but Brian is pretty much spot on. This comment speaks to me of the gayness and general “out-of touch” attitude of many in the hierarchy these days. I am going to assume the Cadinal feels the same about the laity participating in ecclesiastical matters? i.e because the laity are not clerics, they should not be involved in advising church governance in any shape or form.. You know, as I think on this, it is ironicly THE MOST extreme form of clericalism to state “we clerics cannot advise the engaged…and conversely, the engaged and married have nothing to say to clerics…” Beyond the assinine statement that this is, it strikes me as en extremely dangerous position, almost heretical…

  8. Thinking of leaving CA says:

    Hmm… based on the cardinal’s reasoning, I’d say that no priest/bishop/cardinal/pope has credibility to speak about politics. They have no lived experience in the day to day world of politics or business or economics. so maybe they shouldn’t talk so much about things they know nothing about. Instead almost all we hear from them is politics.

  9. Drewelow says:

    The very last sentence of Farrell’s interview let’s slip one of the guidelines at work in the new regime, making sure the ‘system’ is not continued. It sounds like ‘system’ resonates far beyond a reference to marriage preparation alone.

  10. Linda Maria says:

    YES– good priests DO have the ability– and the responsibility– to prepare young Catholic couples for the Sacrament of Matrimony! That is part of their priestly vocation! And if the couple is later fighting, having trouble getting along– go see the priest! He can help! Are you ready and mature enough, for the responsibilities of Marriage? Is Marriage God’s will for this couple? Just because you are married, does not necessarily qualify you to understand Marriage— and be a good Marriage partner! Many people are terrible failures at Marriage– and hurt deeply! Many have also been divorced at least once– and have some serious life problems! Go see your priest– he can help!

    • Anonymous says:

      40 years ago when I got married we had one session with a priest who talked about the Sacramental aspects of marriage. Then we had 5 sessions led by married couples who talked about communication, sex, finances, in-laws, children etc.
      There are some priests who are social workers or psychologists, but most do not have the time to do marriage therapy. Sometimes they can recommend a counselor.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you Linda Marie for making good sense. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  11. Linda Maria says:

    Clericalism is a severe abuse of the priesthood. And the severe shortage of priests in our Church is highly unusual— it was expected, tragically, after Vatican II. It is an important part of a priest’s job, to prepare Catholic couples in his parish for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and to perform this Sacrament for them. And to be available to help them, and their future children, lifelong, as their parish priest.

  12. Clementine says:

    I have no children, yet I successfully taught them for years. What a crock.

  13. Anonymous says:

    So I have to jump off a bridge and die to tell someone jumping off a bridge may kill you

  14. Why doesn’t the church use Deacons more? There are 19000+ in this country…

    • they do….I am the deacon in our parish (10 worships sites) and my wife and I do all the marriage preparation. And we tell it like it is. It makes great sense, not the the priest can’t, but he has so little time.

  15. LaDonna Stevens says:

    If Priest don’t know how to prepare a man and a woman for marriage then I don’t know who does. They are the epitome of the meaning of marriage. Marriage is all about sacrifice. They, themselves are married to the Church as their High Priest, Jesus Christ is. Enough said…!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Would he say the same about Saint John Paul the Great? Is “Theology of the Body” also not credible? Please everyone take a moment to say a Hail Mary for him and ask the Holy Spirit to touch him with clarity of mind.

  17. With all due respect for his Office, I ask: So, is he saying he has no credibility to do marriage preparation either since he is a priest? Does a doctor have to have cancer to treat a cancer patient? Do married people have no credibility teaching at seminaries or preparing priests for the priesthood? These are a few questions I would like to ask His Eminence! Fr. Chris Fontanini

  18. deacon mike says:

    WOW how sad! All those years of seminary & formation in the sacraments and now priests can’t do marriage prep? They have their own families & friends that are married. In my opinion, the better priests do know how to do such and they do it very well. The best ones to do it, are the permanent deacons. Oh I forgot, but no one knows that they are ordained, have holy orders, and the priests forget they were a transitional deacon. Over 90% of deacons are married, have kids & grandkids and work for a living because their ministries are usually voluntary. They know about balancing God, church, faith, family, work, and other family living experiences. If you don’t have a deacon at your parish, send couples preparing for marriage to a parish that…

  19. Thus, a healthy oncologist has no credibility treating cancer patients and healthy psychiatrists have no credibility treating those having mental health problems. Small wonder that he was made a cardinal by Pope Francis

  20. Do priests have credibility with regard to preparing couples for marriage, or even for counseling those who already are married? I dare say they have more than most married people ever had. Why such a bold statement? It has to do with what priests hear in the confessional and in other private conversations with many, many married folk. I, as a married man, have the limited perspective of my own marriage with its particular blessings and challenges. I may also have some perspective from what my married friends choose to divulge to me in confidence. However, what my friends are willing to share with me surely compares little to the intimate details and struggles confided to our beloved priests, particularly with regard to what is…

  21. Anonymous says:

    It has been 25 years since I went to a priest about marriage issues. Because I learned not to go to priests about marriage issues. The hard way. They know nothing and not because they are not married but because (and this is just my personal experience and should not be generalized onto every priest) they were perverts. They got busted for child crimes or #me too moments. Or they were (possibly) gay. Or they were too timid to even tell someone not to divorce. Or they were so easily manipulated by the male partner that the problems just got worse.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Marriage Preparation in the Catholic Church: Getting it Right says: “Marriage preparation is perceived as most valuable when it is administered by a team”. That team should always include a member of the clergy, for couples consistently judge the presence of clergy valuable and their absence detrimental. It should also always include lay couples, for a recurring complaint was that “priests who don’t marry just don’t know what it is like.” All policies assume that the formational sessions will be led by trained married couples, many times with a priest as a member of that team also.

  23. Domenic D. says:

    Pray tell, when was the last time a priest tried to tell a couple preparing for marriage how to handle the marriage. They have a difficult time trying to get the couples to live apart until marriage.

    I wish these Cardinals and Bishops that have so much criticism of the priest would do something about it other then to tell the world that they can’t do something well. I don’t know what these leaders do with there time other than to try to make themselves look good to the local laity. Nothing about the fact that the Cardinals and Bishops of Ireland are not qualified to address the problem of abortion in Ireland….not a word. Making a joke of the Church Christ established and His teachings.

  24. If he, the cardinal, is ignorant of marriage aka espousal between a man and a woman…then he also must also be equally ignorant of Jesus’s (The Groom) espousal to the Church (His Bride)…even further he must be totally stupified of the espousal relationship between Joseph and Mary…and if that isnt enough, this cardinal must be totally floored with the Virgin Mary’s espousal to the Holy Spirit…and he is probally equally perplexed why the faithful calls him “Father”…I’m sure his bedtime ponder also include…why do the celibate religious and clergy wear wedding bands??? how far can this application of this stupidity go considering most priests are fruit (born) and raised at least a 1/3 of their life under such marital venue…

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