Question: How can a priest counsel people about marriage when he has never been married?
Answer: If a marriage counselor is in a bad marriage does that mean that he or she will be a bad counselor? If one’s counseling ability depended upon first-hand experience, would that require counselors to be perfect before they can help others? Obviously not. Some of the skills necessary to help others do come out of personal life experience. But you don’t need personal, first-hand experience in order to understand something. We would not think that a doctor, who is an oncologist, would not be able to treat cancer because he himself has never been sick. We also would not expect every doctor to treat cancer. It is the same with priests.
Essentially marriage is a relationship and we’ve all been involved in different kinds of relationships: in our family, with our friends, and with God. And so counseling people about marriage is really helping them to look at the issues that really are part of their relationship, finding ways to better understand themselves in relationship to one another and in relationship to God. In many ways a priest’s training, background, and experience, as well as his personal knowledge of many different relationships in families and couples, gives him a broad background from which to draw upon. Most priests are quite capable of helping couples prepare for marriage and discussing the issues that are important as they begin their life together. And they do not do it alone. With the help of married couples and specially trained counselors, most parishes offer a very good preparation for the sacrament of marriage.