Impotency and marriage

I was just listening to a replay of Catholic Answers Live from yesterday, and heard the answer to a question that I found difficult to believe.

Someone was asking about the validity of a marriage if a person was impotent. The Canon lawyer said that it was not valid if the condition was antecedent to the marriage, and was a permanent condition. Jerry Usher followed up with the question, then as to whether the Catholic Church would deny marriage to a couple if one of the persons then was impotent. The answer was “yes.”

Perhaps I misunderstood the meaning of “impotent.” Impotency does not necessarily mean one cannot engage in the conjugal act, it means you cannot bear children. And while one purpose of marriage is to bear children, and while that purpose should not be purposefully avoided, I was a little dumbfounded at the response. I have to believe there was a misunderstanding there, either on the part of the lawyer or on my hearing of it.

Comments?

Hi gomer tree,

I just looked up the word “impotent” in the dictonary and it said,
"incapable of sexual intercourse often due to the inability to sustain or achieve an erection."
The second defination was “sterile.”

So I suppose the radio show was referring to the first definition?

Hi Gomer:

Yes, you did understand the meaning of “impotent”. Impotence is NOT sterility–one can be pretty “potent” yet be incapable of conceiving a child.

Impotence means that one cannot engage in genital sexual relations (hope that isn’t too graphic). While it might seem harsh to say that those who are physically incapable of the marital act (while they might have perfectly fine sperm counts or perfectly working uteruses/Fallopian tube etc.) cannot be VALIDLY married (after all, they usually aren’t DELIBERATELY impotent, are they?), it goes down to the “procreative” and “generative” aspects of marriage.

Marriage isn’t just a “civil covenant” where two people who love each other sign papers, have a ceremony, and then live however they please.

Marriage is a sacrament, instituted by God, and it has both certain rights and certain responsibilities.

God isn’t an old meanie who unfairly first creates somebody “impotent” and then further dumps on him (or her) by saying, “And you can’t get married EITHER” as some great cosmic and undeserved punishment–but I’m sure that is the secular humanistic view, which simultaneously raises “love” as THE ONLY REASON for marriage, ignoring spirit and God, while relegating “conjugal” love to influence by contraception, abortion, and “same sex” marriages which of course are both sterile AND impotent and making them “add ons” to the one blinding “we’re in LOVE, therefore we DESERVE marriage” concept so prevalent today.

God has given us all a specific “purpose” in life. And He’s given us our specific “crosses”. NONE of those crosses is unbearable, since God does not hold us to impossibilities (same as He doesn’t bother with silly problems of “shall I make a rock too heavy for Me to lift” and other ridiculousities). Some of those crosses, depending on all sorts of factors (today, very heavily influenced by a secular and antireligious society), are heavier than others TO A GIVEN PERSON; however, the rewards are greater as well.
“To whom much has been given, much will be demanded”.

I don’t think that we want to encourage an idea of relative “merits” of personal crosses. I imagine that the cross of martyrdom which was given to so many in the early years of the church doesn’t look so “bad” to us as the cross of SSA looks today–but we really are in very little danger at present of suffering martyrdom, while SSA is trumpeted all over as affecting millions of people, and given the full “violins and roses” treatment. “Comparison” of crosses is NOT the way to go–compassion, love, help to bear the cross, patient resignation to God’s will and prayer is.

That would make more sense. But suppose it is the first. I did not realize that if someone were impotent in that manner, it meant they could not get merried. I’ll have to ponder that a little. I guess I never thought about it.

[quote=Tantum ergo]Impotence means that one cannot engage in genital sexual relations (hope that isn’t too graphic). While it might seem harsh to say that those who are physically incapable of the marital act (while they might have perfectly fine sperm counts or perfectly working uteruses/Fallopian tube etc.) cannot be VALIDLY married (after all, they usually aren’t DELIBERATELY impotent, are they?), it goes down to the “procreative” and “generative” aspects of marriage.
[/quote]

Ability to procreate cannot be the determining factor here, otherwise all sterile people would not be allowed to validly marry.

Marriage isn’t just a “civil covenant” where two people who love each other sign papers, have a ceremony, and then live however they please.

Completely understood. This is why I can’t extend the argument to brothers/sister, sames-sex couples, and others. However, while one purpose of marriage is procreation and the obvious implications that go with it, it is also a complete self-giving in other ways. If one becomes impotent after-the-fact, the Church does not say they are any less married. This appears to be a consummation argument.

God isn’t an old meanie who unfairly first creates somebody “impotent” and then further dumps on him (or her) by saying, “And you can’t get married EITHER” as some great cosmic and undeserved punishment–but I’m sure that is the secular humanistic view, which simultaneously raises “love” as THE ONLY REASON for marriage, ignoring spirit and God, while relegating “conjugal” love to influence by contraception, abortion, and “same sex” marriages which of course are both sterile AND impotent and making them “add ons” to the one blinding “we’re in LOVE, therefore we DESERVE marriage” concept so prevalent today.

Certainly I’m not suggesting as much. And if the Church rules in this fashion, I accept it. But I must say the thought is a bit surprising to me.

God has given us all a specific “purpose” in life. And He’s given us our specific “crosses”. NONE of those crosses is unbearable, since God does not hold us to impossibilities (same as He doesn’t bother with silly problems of “shall I make a rock too heavy for Me to lift” and other ridiculousities). Some of those crosses, depending on all sorts of factors (today, very heavily influenced by a secular and antireligious society), are heavier than others TO A GIVEN PERSON; however, the rewards are greater as well.
“To whom much has been given, much will be demanded”.

All this is true. I think, however, you may have read a critical tone in my question that perhaps wasn’t intended to be there.

From St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica article on Whether impotence is an impediment to marriage?

I answer that, In marriage there is a contract whereby one is bound to pay the other the marital debt: wherefore just as in other contracts, the bond is unfitting if a person bind himself to what he cannot give or do, so the marriage contract is unfitting, if it be made by one who cannot pay the marital debt.

However, note that modern medical science has rendered the “three-year” rule obsolete.

[quote=gomer tree]I was just listening to a replay of Catholic Answers Live from yesterday, and heard the answer to a question that I found difficult to believe.

Someone was asking about the validity of a marriage if a person was impotent. The Canon lawyer said that it was not valid if the condition was antecedent to the marriage, and was a permanent condition. Jerry Usher followed up with the question, then as to whether the Catholic Church would deny marriage to a couple if one of the persons then was impotent. The answer was “yes.”

Perhaps I misunderstood the meaning of “impotent.” Impotency does not necessarily mean one cannot engage in the conjugal act, it means you cannot bear children. And while one purpose of marriage is to bear children, and while that purpose should not be purposefully avoided, I was a little dumbfounded at the response. I have to believe there was a misunderstanding there, either on the part of the lawyer or on my hearing of it.

Comments?
[/quote]

In Canon Law Impotent (male or female) means not being able to engage in normal human sexual intercourse. Either due to a physical or mental cause. It must exist prior to the Marriage and be considered permanent.

So what about older couples that are well beyond childbearing years who might wish to marry for companionship and the male is permanetly impotent. Are they just out of luck?

[quote=rwoehmke]So what about older couples that are well beyond childbearing years who might wish to marry for companionship and the male is permanetly impotent. Are they just out of luck?
[/quote]

Yes. A marriage is not a marriage if it cannot be consummated.

[quote=rwoehmke]So what about older couples that are well beyond childbearing years who might wish to marry for companionship and the male is permanetly impotent. Are they just out of luck?
[/quote]

They would not be able to enter into a Sacramental Marriage. I’m not sure if this is an impediment that a Bishop could dispense from?

If something like Viagra could help with the condition could they marry? Is using viagra licit according ot the Church?

[quote=gomer tree]I
Perhaps I misunderstood the meaning of “impotent.” Impotency does not necessarily mean one cannot engage in the conjugal act, it means you cannot bear children. ?
[/quote]

refer to a dictionary. Impotence (medically) means the condition in which the male is unable to achieve an erection and ejaculate, in other words, unable to perform the marriage act. There are also conditions which would render a women unable to participate in the marriage act, but impotence refers to this primary disorder in the male. If primary permanent impotence (not just a temporary situation) is present before marriage, cannot be remedied by medical means then the man cannot enter into a valid marriage because he cannot perform the fundamental act of marraige. Same with a woman who cannot accept vaginal penetration. It does not refer to the inability to father children, or to conceive. The term for that disorder is sterility. Sterility does not prevent a person from contracting a valid marriage as long as the sex act is possible. This is an impediment in natural law and cannot be dispensed.

[quote=Br. Rich SFO]They would not be able to enter into a Sacramental Marriage. I’m not sure if this is an impediment that a Bishop could dispense from?
[/quote]

The impediment of impotence comes from divine law, and thus cannot be dispensed.

Remember, though, that a couple who can’t perform the marital act CAN live together as brother and sister licitly, which is precisely what they’d be doing anyway. In essence, they would be allowed to act as married as they were physically capable of doing. Since sex would be impossible, it would not be a near occaision of sin for them to live together and care for one another.

As our mother, Mary, demonstrates, sex is not the criteria for a marriage. Love is.

[quote=Genesis315]If something like Viagra could help with the condition could they marry? Is using viagra licit according ot the Church?
[/quote]

Once the condition no longer exists. The Impediment to Marriage no longer exists.

[quote=Catholic2003]The impediment of impotence comes from divine law, and thus cannot be dispensed.
[/quote]

Yes and more specifically it comes from a subset of divine law known as natural law.

[quote=Genesis315]If something like Viagra could help with the condition could they marry?
[/quote]

Yes.

Is using viagra licit according ot the Church?

I know it’s licit to treat male impotence; I don’t know if it’s licit to use it for other purposes.

Ability to procreate cannot be the determining factor here, otherwise all sterile people would not be allowed to validly marry.

Infertile people can attempt to produce offspring. They engage in the marital act, but they don’t make it infertile in any way on their own. People who are impotent cannot even attempt the act.

Yes. A marriage is not a marriage if it cannot be consummated.

How about josephite marriages that come along with a vow of chastity? If the vow is permanent, how does it matter if the people are impotent or not?

Remember, though, that a couple who can’t perform the marital act CAN live together as brother and sister licitly, which is precisely what they’d be doing anyway. In essence, they would be allowed to act as married as they were physically capable of doing. Since sex would be impossible, it would not be a near occaision of sin for them to live together and care for one another.

Are you sure that impotence blocks one from having sinful thoughts? Also, if only one person is importent, can’t he or she do things which will arouse the other one even into orgasm?

I’m finding it hard to believe that the people in this thread have the whole story. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Suppose a Catholic widow in her seventies or eighties meets a Catholic widower. Let’s say she knows of his problem and doesn’t care. Maybe they want to go on cruises together and go dancing together. It seems to me that if they just moved in with each other, people would be scandalized.

What are they supposed to do, get married by a judge? They could still have a great life together, taking care of each other and perhaps providing some financial stability (two can live cheaper than one).

If there is such a thing as a Josephite Marriage, why on earth wouldn’t a couple such as this qualify for one?

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