A Catholic News Agency article by Ed Condon conveys various responses to this comment from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, explaining why “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.
I can’t help but feel like the thing that Cardinal Farrell appears to miss is also missing in important ways throughout our culture. In the life of a church, a priest should have a unique view of people throughout their lives, having helped to train children in the faith, helped couples through their marital challenges, and been with them in times of loss at the ends of their lives. And don’t forget their experience taking believers’ confessions and then being able to observe them in their lives.
Sure, the extent to which this idealized image applies may be fading. Fewer priests overseeing smaller parishes with more managerial responsibilities in a less-personally-connected world are not in the same position in which their predecessors may have been, and we shouldn’t shy from acknowledging that in order to save impressions. My disagreement with the cardinal’s comment, however, is that he seems to be suggesting not that this is a problem to reverse, but that it’s a permanent change to which to adjust.
And so we drift further into isolation, turning to one-off quacks and clinicians who have financial incentive to tell us what we want to hear and professional incentives to advance a secular, materialist worldview, while we increasingly behave as if people with real experience have nothing to tell us and politicians have some keen insight into what our behavior ought to be.
I’d promote religious leaders as particularly well suited to play this role, but the heart of the loss is a figure who is expected to have the good of a community in central focus based on transcendent principles.