“It is because of and thanks to his inspirational theology of the body,” Adamus said, “that we have a hermeneutic in which priest and spouses can truly explore together what Familiaris consortio called ‘supernatural fecundity.’”
These sentiments were echoed by Fr. Thomas Petri, OP, vice-president and academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
“I can only assume there’s more to Cardinal Farrell’s point than what’s being reported, since on the face of it the assertion that priests have no credibility with regard to marriage is utterly confounding” Petri said.
“If we’re going to insist that priests have no credibility with regard to marriage, then we not only wash away the dogmatic and moral theology of the sacrament but we also must therefore insist that the faithful should not approach priests for counsel on marriage.”
“Are we then also to tell them that Karol Wojtyla’s great book “Love and Responsibility” has no credibility? Or that his work as St. John Paul II, “The Theology of the Body,” is not credible? How then should the faithful regard our Holy Father’s Amoris laetitia, which is the longest ecclesial document in history on marriage?” Petri asked.
“Is the experience St. John Paul II had with many families trying to live married life faithfully worth nothing? Is Pope Francis’ experience with such families worth nothing? Is mine?”
Adamus and Petri agreed that the best forms of marriage preparation involve priests and married couples working together.
“One of the best forms of collaborative ministry between lay and ordained in the Church is supporting engaged and married couples. I have seen...many highly successful programs that beautifully incorporate the gifts and charisms of the celibate priesthood with the talents, faith and generosity of faithful Catholic spouses, especially in mentoring the engaged under the pastoral supervision and prayerful guidance of the priest,” Adamus said.
“Most priests I know agree that married couples who are living their faith in marriage and struggling for holiness by God’s grace should not only be involved with preparing new couples for marriage but are, in fact, shining examples that our Lord’s teaching on marriage is not some unattainable ideal but is rather the path to true happiness and freedom,” Petri added.
The benefit to cooperation between priests and married couples was also emphasized by Dr. John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America.
Grabowski, who served as an expert auditor at the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome, told CNA that Cardinal Farrell’s remarks point to the importance of involving married couples in marriage preparation programs.
“Cardinal Farrell’s statement reminded me a little of the style of Pope Francis; he’s very forthright in making his point. In this case maybe he was being a little hyperbolic, but I do think there is a valid point here about the importance of increased involvement by married couples in marital formation, both before and after the wedding.”
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Married couples, Grabowski said, “have things they bring, in terms of their lived experience, which have real value. Veritatis splendor speaks of ‘experiential moral knowledge’ and this has a key role to play in offering couples, engaged and married, the best formation and support the Church has to offer.”
Grabowski emphasized that both priests and lay couples bring unique perspectives to marriage formation, and that the combination of the two is essential.
“Good marriage formation draws on both priests and married couples working together. Just as married people have a direct lived experience, priests bring a unique insight of their own. In addition to offering the necessary formation in the theology of marriage, they can also act as a sort of wide-angle lens, giving a broader perspective on the joys and hardships of married life formed through years of accompanying different couples,” he said.
“My wife and I have been forming and preparing couples for marriage for more than twenty years, and we have been helping to offer support and ongoing formation to couples after marriage,” Grabowski added.
“We recently published a program for marriage formation, and in it we explicitly recommend that it be used with the involvement of a priest for just this reason.”
Grabowski also stressed that vocations to both marriage and celibacy rely on each other.