LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Priests are not the best people to train others for marriage, according to the head of the Vatican’s office for the family.
“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,” said Irish-born American Cardinal Kevin Farrell.
Farrell heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and is the point man for the Aug. 21-26 World Meeting of Families in Dublin. Francis will attend the final two days of the event.
The cardinal was born in the Irish capital, but moved to the United State in 1984, later serving as an auxiliary bishop in Washington before becoming bishop of Dallas in 2007. In 2016, he was tapped by Pope Francis to head the new office – which combined several other Vatican councils as part of the reform of the Curia.
In an interview with Intercom, the official magazine of the Irish bishops, Farrell spoke of the differences between the Church in the United States and the Church in Ireland.
He said the United States was a country 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,” the cardinal said.
He said this also meant many pastoral tasks usually left to priests in Ireland – like marriage preparation – are done by others.
“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,” said Farrell.
He said the Church in Ireland would have to adapt to this lay model of Church governance, due to “sheer numbers.”
The Dublin diocese – with a comparable number of Catholics to Dallas – currently has over 400 priests, but that number is dropping as fewer and fewer men are being ordained to replace clergy that die or retire.
“We have to worry about the 99 per cent, about the baptized, and not worry about the other things we have been obsessed with,” Farrell said.
The cardinal said this would lead to a less clericalized Church, which is a good thing. He also noted Francis is trying to de-clericalize the Vatican curia, especially by increasing the role of women in the Church’s central governing structure.
“Administrative functions within the Church can be done by anybody. They have been mainly done by priests, but they can be done by lay people too,” Farrell told the magazine.
The cardinal pointed to the pope appointing women to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – “the powerhouse of the Vatican” – and three women to senior positions at his own dicastery.
“Francis, unnoticed, has gradually been putting women into positions of power,” he said. However, Farrell said administration is a different thing than ordination.
“Do we want to turn [women] into clerics? We don’t. They have to be people of the world who live in the world,” he said.
“The ordination of women is truly not a solution for the Church because if you just ordain women you will just isolate them, if you continue the system, if you don’t change the structures,” he said.