Speak for Yourself, Cardinal Farrell

I was always taught to respect the clergy. But what do we do when the clergy harm each other?

By Jennifer Roback Morse Published on July 20, 2018

I was always taught to respect the clergy. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Should criticism be necessary, let it be as gentle as possible. But what do we do when the clergy harm each other? Cardinal Kevin Farrell’s recent comments about priests lacking credibility for preparing couples for marriage amounts to an attack on every priest in Christendom. He makes an unnecessary criticism, in a harsh manner. Worst, his comments bring disrespect to the priestly office itself. A bit of thought, plus a brief look into the Cardinal’s background, may help explain his comments, wrongheaded though they are.

Cardinal Farrell’s Claims

Let’s review the Cardinal’s comments:

During an interview … 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.

Sweeping statement. No benefit of the doubt. Harsh. One cannot doubt the Cardinal’s meaning, because he made similar comments last September.

If he is trying to say that laity should be involved with marriage prep, I can get behind that. (I educate the public about Church teaching.) Farrell could easily have invited more lay involvement without taking a swing at his fellow priests. He could have simply said, “We’re overworked. Help!!” No one would have batted an eye.

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Cardinal Farrell seems to be joining the non-Catholic critics of the celibate clergy. But these critics focus on the wrong thing. The scandal is not unmarried celibate clergy. After all, many of Jesus’ apostles were celibate. Today’s biggest scandal is the lack of clerical celibacy.

Which brings me to a curious detail in Farrell’s background, as reported by the Catholic News Agency:

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.

McCarrick is having his “MeToo” moment. Major media outlets have revealed decades of McCarrick’s sexual harassment of seminary students. Some have gone so far as to say that “everybody knew” about McCarrick’s conduct.

The Cardinal’s Doubt

Perhaps this explains Farrell’s doubt about his brother priests’ competence to prepare couples for marriage. Maybe some priests Farrell knows really do “have no credibility” for preparing couples for marriage, including some formed under Bishop McCarrick. We could say that some of them were “deformed” or “malformed.”

For example, Priest A’s story was reported in two separate sources. He was the object of McCarrick’s attentions. He went on to have sexual acting-out problems himself, and eventually left the priesthood. Being formed under someone like McCarrick could leave scars that affect a man’s priesthood.

Who is Qualified?

Not all priests have disgraced themselves. Nor have all priests had their formation twisted by their superiors. For every story of scandal we read about, there are many more stories of holiness and grace that never make the headlines.

In any case, truly celibate clergy have tremendous credibility. They have a lot to offer young couples preparing for marriage: their experience of a lifetime of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Young couples need this preparation for marriage, every bit as much as communication skills and budgeting tips. Cardinal Farrell’s comments swept all priests into the same basket. His comments most harm the truly celibate, self-sacrificing priests.

I have no doubt which side I support in this clash between a cardinal making unfounded claims and the rest of the clergy. All I can say is, “Speak for yourself, Cardinal Farrell.”


Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the Founder and President of The Ruth Institute.

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  • Rick

    I happen to agree with Cardinal Farrells’s comments. I also have no desire to read about any other issues you have with him. To me, your article smells of vendetta, which has no place on the Stream.

    If you truly believe “their experience of a lifetime of self-giving, self-sacrificing love” is enough to help young couples prepare for marriage, the next time you have a physical malady please visit a veterinarian. After all, they have extensive medical experience dealing with all sorts of ailments.

    • rodlarocque1931

      The advice and counsel of a dedicated and holy priest is an excellent aid to everyone in a parish, married single or same-sex attracted, because they all need to live chastely according to their state.
      Scandalous and worldly clerics no one needs!

    • samton909

      Your silly attempt to pretend that the author has “other issues” with Farrell is just strange. Farrell said some very stupid things that indicates he is the last person who should be in charge of anything in the Catholic church.

      • Rick

        You are right, and I have remove that comment.

  • JMJ

    Rick, you might be confused, as Carol herself seems to be, and as Farrell is purposely obfuscating as every VC2 priest has done since VC2 which might be why there are so many catholic divorces and so many supposed catholics living in mortal sin. Priests don’t prepare people for marriage per se. They prepare them to get to heaven and so ‘marriage preparation’ is to make sure the parties understand the wedding vow and what it will mean for the rest of their life if they take that vow. Of course, VC2 priests never talk about what happens at death or that marriage is until death do us part. They don’t talk about contraception being a mortal sin nor the duty of the couple to set an example of Catholic life for their children and to instruct them in the Faith. If you want to go to heaven, you go to a priest–that’s why I don’t go near any clown adhering to the VC2 heresy. You might as well go see a satanist because you’ll end up in the same place.

    • samton909

      I suppose you are one of those weirdos who has broken away from the Catholic faith and formed your own church. Hence the weird blabber about VC2. Stop blaming the wrong things, come back to the real church and stop making up your own church.

      • JMJ

        You’re calling me a weirdo when you belong to a church led by pedophile perverts and sodomite priest rapists like Cardinal Farrell who preach a false gospel that leads souls to hell, that have changed every sacrament so that it does not give grace (look at the new rite of ordination, compare the new mass w/the pre-VC2 mass) and instead of listening to the true shepherds who taught the true faith of Jesus Christ (like Sts. Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist and John the Baptist) you are congregating w/those who promote adultery, sodomy, fornication and apostasy? Sure pray you wake up before you end up in hell.

    • Rick

      I’m not confused, but perhaps I should clarify. The ONLY comments of Cardinal Farrell’s which I agree with are those stated above. To further clarify, I quote them again here.

      ‘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

      I believe that Christians should seek the advise and counsel of a qualified, married, Christian counselor prior to marriage. Knowledge can be obtained from books, Wisdom is almost always obtained from experience.

      Also, “If you want to go to heaven” you go to Jesus. A priest may help to introduce you to Him, but it’s not a requirement.

      • JMJ

        Who are you to say what is and is not a requirement? Jesus Christ never wrote anything. Bible was written after his death and holy books determined by the Catholic Church in around 400 AD (i.e. for 400 years how were people saved if sola scriptura is the criteria?). How was the Faith spread before there was a printing press? Jesus Christ established a Church. “Saved by believing,” “scripture alone” are heresies taught by apostate priests. You will not go to heaven just by “believing.” These are the words of Jesus Christ: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great COMMANDMENT. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” “Blessed are the pure of heart (who Love God above everything) for they will see God. If you don’t love God, you will never see God. St. Paul: “if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” and “only love remains.” Jesus Christ further said if you love me you will keep my commandments, but the first thing protestants threw out the window was Jesus Christ’s teaching on marriage. Protestants “do” is different from their “who” or so they teach you and that it’s all fine w/Jesus Christ. But the Bible states that faith w/out works is dead and Jesus Christ said, if you don’t DO what I say, you build your house on sand (i.e. you go to hell). Jesus Christ didn’t establish a collection of individuals who all go to Him on their own, he established a Church w/a hierarchy–from the first Peter took charge and the other apostles followed him; Christians entered into the Kingdom through the Church. You say you can go to Jesus, but who baptizes you? Who gives you His Body and Blood (John 6:53) (and it’s His REAL Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity)? Who absolves you of mortal sin after you are baptized (What did Jesus Christ say to the Apostles after Resurrection (see John)? The Holy Bible speaks on all these issues, but protestants ignore what the Holy Bible teaches. You are a false prophet if you knowingly spread those heresies and you will reap the reward as will those who taught you.

        Re: Marriage prep: you can go to a protestant counselor and you can go to pope francis and all his demon associates, and they will tell you birth control, divorce, and every other kind of sin known to man is fine w/Jesus Christ, but if you want to know what is required of those who choose to make wedding vows before the Holy Triinity and receive the sacrament of matrimony, i.e. your duties and responsibilities in the married state you will go to a Catholic priest.

        Also if you want the sacraments established by Jesus Christ, i.e. forgiveness of your sins (confession — and there are mortal and venial sins (see Matthew 5:19 — venial sinners still get into the Kingdom (the least) but mortal sinners do not enter) and His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity (His last Will and Testament that he gave to the Apostles), you will go to a Catholic Priest (and believe me I am not talking about Pope Francis’ apostate VC2 sect).

        • Rick

          I acknowledge your knowledge of what you were taught.

  • samton909

    i am starting to suspect that every single American cardinal named by Francis is a homosexualist. Every single one of his new cardinals has been advocating homosexuality in some way or the other. Cardinal Farrell was PERSONALLY responsible for inviting the foul Father James Martin to speak at the World Meeting of Families in Ireland. He has said many strange things that make you wonder if he has any allegiance to the Catholic church at all. This latest creepy statement from a supposed Cardinal is just par for the course. Every single one of these American cardinals hamed by Francis is some sort of creep. Cupich the Strange. Tobin the “Night Night Baby” Tweeter. As we learned with McCarrick the American Bishops are filled with homosexuals who hide in place until they can rise to power, then subvert the church from the inside. Get rid of these fake people.

  • Daniel P. Furey

    I think the cardinal means that the lack of “lived experience” means priests aren’t the best as giving marriage advice, on the other hand, they’re great at giving advice to homosexual predators.

  • im4truth4all

    An individual can experience learning in two ways, by experience and by study. Does a doctor have to experience a disease to know about it? In fact study exposes an individual to even greater knowledge than just experience alone. The Cardinal’s opnion, I believe, has no merit.

    • Jim Walker

      A disease is not a relationship.
      If the priest is to teach from a book call Marriage for Dummies, might as well the couple read it to each other.

      • Val1

        The priest needs to teach couples that a relationship with GOD is essential to a good relationship with each other. Hopefully, the priest is an excellent source to learn about that. He needs to teach them to keep Holy the Sabbath EVERY Sunday/Holy Day, and to keep all the other commandments. He (or a knowledgeable lay or religious) needs to teach them the Church teaching on moral sexuality. He needs to teach them to pray together daily and to confess their sins regularly. He should recommend the help of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. Following these steps would make nearly all marriages life-long faithful marriages. You don’t need to be married to know them and teach them. These steps have been much neglected in the marriage prep materials and training that I have seen.

      • im4truth4all

        I never said a disease is a relationship. I was using this as an analogy. A marriage counselor studies relationships in marriage and associated problems. The counselor may have experienced some of the situations that cause problems in marriage but most certainly not all of them. The other situations he studies from educational material.

        The conclusion is simply a marriage counselor does not have to be married to be a marriage counselor just as a priest does not have to commit the sin to give counsel the individual about the sin.

        To reiterate, I believe the Cardinal’s remark has no merit.

  • Margaret

    I believe faithful, heterosexual priests can offer valuable wisdom and insights on marriage. I look to the wonderful priest who prepared my husband and me over 50 years ago and other faithful priests through the years that we have known.

    However, I would at least agree with Cardinal Farrell that SOME priests— those living an unfaithful lifestyle in the manner of a Cardinal McCarrick—are definitely so disordered in their reasoning and Theology as NOT to be qualified to understand and counsel couples for marriage.

    • Jennifer Roback Morse Phd

      That was the point of my article. But Cardinal Farrell made an unwarranted, sweeping claim that priests have no credibility. He had no business taking a swipe at all priests like that.

      • Margaret

        Yes, Jennifer, you made that point well, and I agree. I just wanted to restate the point with nuance from my own perspective.

        If I seemed a little more sympathetic to Cardinal Farrell’s statement, it was only because I am so thoroughly disgusted with the many Cardinal McCarrick types who continue to operate and be promoted. I think McCarrick is only the tip of the iceberg.

        Granted that Cardinal Farrell’s statement would have been more accurate and credible if he had qualified it to include only some priests with McCarrick’s proclivity. Like you, I do not agree with Farrell’s blanket statement that all priests are not qualified to counsel couples for marriage.

        But I hope Farrell’s mistaken overkill will at least open the door to a larger discussion, and reframe it toward the fact that there are many more Cardinal McCarricks who should be kept from counseling anybody, and weeded out before they cause any more damage to the Church and other good priests.

        • Jay

          Farrell’s brother is a dirty paedophile who sodomised his own sons.

  • texasknight

    I don’t think 20 hours is enough to understand that you and your spouse are about to make a covenant with God: to love freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. 20 hours? That’s pretty much the requirement in the vast number of our dioceses. You maybe get 1 hour intro to NFP and 1 hour intro to ToB. No priest can do marriage prep justice in 20 hours. Who controls this? The bishops. There are a number of dioceses (~14) that require a full course in an approved NFP method. There are even some courageous priest from the remaining dioceses who require this at their parish despite the lack of leadership from their bishop. So there are a few good ones out there. Denver actually requires 3 months of charts. Cd. Farrell actually had a full course requirement implemented in Dallas before he left for the Vatican. He also put out a joint pastoral letter in Oct 2008 so that faithful Catholics could know with certainty that they must oppose the party of death: “There are no ‘truly grave moral’ or ‘proportionate’ reasons, singularly or combined that could outweigh the millions of innocent human lives that are directly killed by abortion each year.” Bishops Farrell & Vann

    Pray for His priests and especially for His bishops. Come Holy Spirit. Touch the hearts of Your priests. Instill in them the strength and fortitude, the wisdom and courage to always preach the Fullness of Your Truth. Amen.

    • James

      Under Canon Law, far less is required.

      And if the requirements are too onerous, couples will just marry at the courthouse instead.

  • Jim Walker

    I agree with him.
    Teaching people how to fish when he is not a fisherman. Let the married couples teach marrying couples.

  • Howard

    It’s too bad that neither side of this debate knows that some priests are widowers. RIP Fr. Stan Corcoran.

  • Howard

    Also, priests should be evaluated by the marriages that follow their counseling. If a large fraction of the marriages a priest has helped prepare end in divorce, maybe he should be taken off that duty.

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