Can the church tell someone they can't get married or have kids because of things like a mental illness?

First of all, I don’t necessarily support this and even if I did, I would make sure to do it within the bounds of church rules (no abortions or sterilizations or birth control) and simply tell a certain person that maybe celibacy is what God is calling them to.

Is this wrong though? Would it be wrong for a priest to tell someone with bipolar disorder that they shouldn’t have kids because they might be a bad parent and their kids might suffer? I ask this because I myself am from a family that has issues with anxiety and depression and I wonder if maybe people with these disorders just shouldn’t have kids. I know the bible says the whole thing about being fruitful, but is it worth being fruitful if the child is going to struggle with an illness that could be a burden. Like I said i’m not advocating abortion or contraception or sterilization.

The liturgy and sacraments forum might have more people with expertise.

I would say that, just for starters, there’s likely to be continued medical progress in the treatment of mental illness, so that it might be very short-sighted to not marry or have children when it may be much more manageable soon.

In general, most priests encourage marriage for somebody who is acting in a reasonably mature way, and they encourage waiting for somebody who is acting like a kid or like somebody it’s not safe to marry.

So if somebody happened to be bipolar, but:

he was careful about taking his medicine,
his disease was obviously well-controlled and had been well-controlled for a while,
he was doing okay at work and with family, and had been for a while,
he’d thought about what to do if one or more kids also turned out to be bipolar,
and his fiancee knew all about his disease and understood what to do if it got uncontrolled, and was ready for the possible challenge of bipolar kids…

… that would be a bipolar person who was well-prepared for marriage.

OTOH, somebody who happened to be bipolar, but:

didn’t have well-adjusted meds or often forgot to take them until symptoms showed,
often had bipolar episodes that were pretty wild and dangerous,
had trouble at work and with family all the time,
hadn’t really thought about the effects of his disease on a wife or kids,
and hadn’t actually told his fiancee about his disease…

… that would be a bipolar person who wasn’t ready for marriage at all.

So basically, assuming a mental disease isn’t so dangerous that it really is beyond help and beyond living a normal life, the main criterion is how a mentally ill person is dealing with it, and how that person is prepared to deal with being married and having kids.

If someone is a mature person who has a good plan and has shown he can consistently carry out good plans for his life, that is a good sign he’s ready for marriage and will be capable of being a good husband. Same thing for women.

That sounds very sensible.

With women you have the complicating factor that some medications might or might not be advisable during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Yep, one of my meds is Class D (positive risks known) and the other is Class C (risks can’t be ruled out) I will always be on the class c drug, for the rest of my life. I don’t take the prescribed amount of my Class D drug. I’m prescribed it TID and I have gone days without taking it. I’m not being careless, I just didn’t need it.

This really depends on your particular situation. Personally, because of my understanding of how my meds and most meds available to bipolars affect zygotes and embryos, I chose to be a celibate. No one in the Church made me do it.

This part is not a matter of Faith, just theologians theologizing;) They will say that taking class d teratogens for bipolar disorder is ok even though some preborn may incidentally die because you did not attack them directly, their deaths were an unintended consequence. Its like the Chief who sends the firefighter into the blaze, the firefighter dies, but it was not murder because the death was an unintended consequence.

The problem I have with this analogy is my sanity is not equal to a human life. The analogy I would use is the Chief sees the joints are buckling, the walls are waffling, collapse is imminent and he’s thinking about sending a firefighter after a puppy!

If the condition included psychotic features, the priest may determine that the person is unable to consent per Can 1095 1,2,3.

I do not know that the Church can do so in general, but I believe sometimes when a decree of nullity is granted, conditions may be placed on it forbidding a person to attempt marriage (and by implication: to have children) again unless some condition is met. This could be, eg, if the party has demonstrated a incorrect understanding of the sacrament, or the inability to manifest consent.

Or I Could Be Completely Wrong About This and have misunderstood what others have reported to me.


Many doctors strongly believe there is a genetic link to many mental health disorders, including bipolar, and there is hope for finding genetic markers in the near future. Now that you brought this up, I wonder what the Church’s position in on this topic in relation to birth control?

The Church does not recognize any justification for not being open to life during the conjugal act, or using abortafacients which is every birth control pill or shot out there.

First of all, mental illness isn’t a disease. I have been diagnosed as mentally ill. More than one diagnosis at that. Those near and dear to me are told because they are near and dear to me. I usually start by saying that if something were to come up, don’t take it personal. I might start spouting off about C when B is the real problem.

Hmm, there it is:

Can. 1684 §1. After the sentence which first declared the nullity of the marriage has been confirmed at the appellate grade either by a decree or by a second sentence, the persons whose marriage has been declared null can contract a new marriage as soon as the decree or second sentence has been communicated to them

unless a prohibition attached to the sentence or decree or established by the local ordinary has forbidden this


Who Is Not A Canon Lawyer

I cannot judge nor recommend…I only know the pain that someone very dear to me felt in knowing the devastating effects many of these meds can have on a developing embryo and the deep desire to be a parent but also worrying about the possibility of passing the illness on to a child or his/her children. I truly need to pray for understanding in regards to birth control on this point and for this specific purpose only. I know God’s compassion and I believe with all my heart that His Will be done.

To be very accurate here, mental illness is not a disease, it is a category which include affective disorders, personality disorders and others.

Not everything in this category is a disease.

Personality disorders such as antisocial, addictive or histrionic disorders are not diseases. Physical changed do not occur, they are caused by certain childhood events. Medications are useless, intensive psych/cognitive therapy is required. Many outgrow personality disorders in their 40’s and 50’s. They do so by their choice. This is not a disease but a character flaw.

People with clinical depression and PTSD have experienced an intense trauma of such severity and duration that the physical form of the brain as well as the chemistry have been altered. Most cases require medication and intense psycho therapy. Some may heal enough that they can stop the medication and therapy. Others are severely disabled for life. Untreated, this disease can prove fatal not only to the patient but to others.

Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorders are genetically generated diseases that even though they may not present until the teens or young adulthood, changes in the brain structures are in place at birth and cause the chemical changes that result in the symptoms. Emotional trauma may or may not have been present but likely has nothing to do with the prognosis. Psycho Therapy is useless except to teach people how to take care of themselves. Medicine is the only effective treatment and must be take for the rest of their lives. Despite what Bipolars may have told you, there is no remission without medication. Even with optimal treatment, this diseasecan prove fatal not only to the patient but to others.

I hope this clarifies things.:blessyou:

I worry about this constantly. I would like to have a baby, but I’m on class c and d meds. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to be in touch with your doctor frequently to monitor switching to safer meds if pregnancy is in your future. I’ve been told by a few psychiatrists that there is no justification in worrying about passing on my disorder, because it might not happen. I still can’t help but worry.

I think some past CAF threads on genetic disorders and children have some relevance here:

This is really two questions, and must be bifurcated.

Can the Church tell someone they cannot get married? Absolutely. If someone has an impediment to valid marriage, cannot form the requisite intent, or cannot give valid consent, then they cannot marry. It is not that the Church is actually forbidding them to get married, it is that they are not capable of entering into a valid marriage at that time, or possibly ever.

So, it is possible someone could approach the Church for marriage, and when such an impediment to valid marriage is discovered, the decision could be that it is not possible for them to marry.

As to children, the Church cannot tell a validly married couple not to have children. That is opposed to the ends of marriage and it is not within the Church’s authority to make such a proclamation. Certainly a pastor could offer guidance, and prudential judgment might make it a good idea to space or limit family size for various reasons. But that is not the same thing as what you are asking, whether the Church has authority to forbid a married couple from having children. That answer is no.

Priests are people with judgment, just like everyone else. A priest’s advice is many times based on his own life experiences, culture, and training in the priesthood. It is entirely possible that a priest might counsel a couple in which one or both parties have mental illness to consider whether they can take up all the duties of marriage, including child rearing. The priest would be amiss if he simply ignored this very real mental illness and pretended that it would in no way impact the marriage or children.

Would a priest say what you have written above? Probably not.

It is certainly something for the person to consider before marrying. The person may want to refrain from marriage if they do not believe they can fulfill all the duties of marriage and family.

I have seen mental illness in my own family and how it devastates. My half-brother’s mother is bipolar and has schizophrenia and all of her drama and behavior have made his life a living hell, and he is very worried that his daughter may one day inherit this burden. He and his wife seriously considered not having any children, but in the end they decided that they could not live their lives ruled by fear.

I like how you and your wife have said you can’t live by fear. Ironically I think the Anxiety i have is giving me fear that my kids will have problems (more along the lines of anxiety depression and autism.) I know part of my issue is that I worry i’m normal and the more i’ve learned about anxiety, I know that a lot of times people with anxiety disorders don’t feel normal even though they do. Almost like a warped sense of being self centered pride only instead of “Oh IM so great” its “Oh IM so terrible” and the focus is still on me.

I know part of it too is that my parents were older when they got married and being a little more socially awkward myself. I worried that was my fate. That i wouldn’t get married until my 40’s, my kids would have issues, and to top it off I worried I’d die of cancer like my dad did when I was 16.

But anyway I’ll get to my point. You and your wife I think did a great thing. None of us can know what happens. We can’t just make decisions about our kids based upon certain traits. If we say that ALL who have mental illness can’t have kids its a slippery slope. Sure there are people who can’t because they can’t handle marriage and parenthood, but simply not having kids due to worry is never a good idea. Thats another thing. With my anxiety I forget how much other people worry because I think everyone else is normal while I’m just crazy.

Please pray for me that i think of others

God Bless :slight_smile:

Several years ago I spoke with a Nurse Practitioner about some of this. She knew my diagnosis, and is a Catholic. I had felt for a long time that I would never have any more children because of what I went through with mine (single parent when she was only 2 1/2 yo). But then I thought that if I met the right man, maybe I could consider it. So, I asked her from the medical/mental health prospective, what was her thoughts on me having more children. She thought about it and then said NO. Why? Because I would have to go off of some of my meds, and that wouldn’t be good for me. But now, since I had a hysterectomy in 2003, it’s impossible for me to have any more.

Anyway, I guess what I really want to say is, just because a person is mentally ill, it doesn’t have to mean that they can’t have kids. With the right support, they may make wonderful parents. We can’t judge all by the actions of a few.

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