Marriage Impediment

I hope someone can explain the following.

To begin with I’d better check my facts. I think if a man is impotent, and the condition is permanent, and is a known fact before the marriage he cannot get married. If a man or woman is infertile I believe they can marry.

Why can’t a man who’s impotent marry but men and women who are infertile can?

Correct:

*Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

§2. If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether by a doubt about the law or a doubt about a fact, a marriage must not be impeded nor, while the doubt remains, declared null.

§3. Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 1098.*

A person must be **able **to perform the marriage act since this is one of the essential properties of marriage and an essential obligation of marriage.

So, is it about consummating the marriage because if one of the parties is infertile they will not be able to have children of their own.

Being able to have children is not a requirement but being able to have sex is. It’s not only impotent men who can’t marry – if the woman is unable to have intercourse the marriage wouldn’t be allowed either. My understanding is that the wedding vows give rights to each spouse, rights that would be denied if either is unable to have sex.

Because a man who is impotent is not able to perform the sex act at all, and a marriage must be open to life. Whereas an infertile couple or person can have sex and still be open to life - with God all things are possible.

~Liza

See, that’s where I get confused. I thought marriage has to be open to children. Obviously, if either the male or female are physically incapable of sex then they cannot have children. But, likewise if one of the couple is infertile the marriage cannot be open to the procreation of children.

What would be interesting to know is how can the couple know if they’re impotent because they shouldn’t be having pre-marital sex.

As the relevant canon says antecedent does that mean the couple are OK if the impotence is only discovered after marriage. Would impotence discovered after marriage allow one to petition for a decree of nullity?

All things are possible with God. Are you going to tell God that He is not greater than infertility? Infertile couples have indeed become pregnant after being diagnosed, or after years of infertility.

What would be interesting to know is how can the couple know if they’re impotent because they shouldn’t be having pre-marital sex.

Men become aroused before marriage. I would imagine that most men would know if they are not capable of being aroused.

As the relevant canon says antecedent does that mean the couple are OK if the impotence is only discovered after marriage. Would impotence discovered after marriage allow one to petition for a decree of nullity?

No. The validity of a marriage is only dependent upon the state of the couple at the time the marriage takes place. Not what occurs after. However, if the impotence was there but not known, I believe that could result in an invalid marriage because the wife was not aware that she was marrying a man who was not capable of completing the marriage act or entering into a marriage that could never be open to life. But I am not a Canon Lawyer so don’t quote me on that.

~Liza

Actually, it is not the *marriage *that must be open to children. It is, rather, that each act of intercourse must be ordered to both unity and procreation.

A couple who is infertile due to disease or defect does nothing to disorder the marital embrace. Neither does a post-menopausal couple. Each act of intercourse remains ordered to procreation even though the individual act does not result in conception.

Certain birth defects or physical deformities, analysis by a doctor’s exam, paralysis due to an accident, deformity due to an accident or disease, psychological trauma, all of these could be known beforehand.

If a couple has no reason to believe impotence exists or it cannot be proven that impotence is permanent then there is no impediment. That is why the canon refers to permanent impotence and cases of doubt.

No. If there is doubt the couple can marry. But if they cannot perform the marital embrace to consummate the marriage, the marriage is null.

This is in contrast to a person who is not impotent when they marry (i.e. they consummate the marriage) but who *becomes *impotent later through age, disease, or accident. In such a case, the marriage is perfectly valid.

Yes.

Null? Are you sure? I thought it was valid but able to be dissolved since it had not been consummated.

Yes, null:

Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

§2. If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether by a doubt about the law or a doubt about a fact, a marriage must not be impeded nor, while the doubt remains, declared null.

You are correct regarding the dissolution of the bond in an otherwise valid but unconsummated marriage:

Can. 1142 For a just cause, the Roman Pontiff can dissolve a non-consummated marriage between baptized persons or between a baptized party and a non-baptized party at the request of both parties or of one of them, even if the other party is unwilling.

If you are investigating this in any great detail, it is important to distinguish between medical impotence and canonical impotence. For example, a man who was castrated post-puberty is often capable of vaginal intercourse to climax, but is still considered canonically impotent and thus unable to marry validly according to the Catholic Church.

You will never get any argument to the contrary from me, ever!

I think my previous statement answers this question.

That statement is true however it is an exception rather than the norm. In addition, some of the available medical therapies for the treatment of infertility are, I believe, contrary to the Church’s teaching.

I am, I think, now, gaining the understanding I previously lacked and my confusion is ebbing away: the man and woman must be physical capable of having vaginal intercourse and that they must not have used any chemical or physical method or any other act, e.g. withdrawal of the penis prior to ejaculation, to prevent the possibility of conception. However, it is not a problem that conception does not occur, providing nothing has prevented the possibility of conception. (I have not used what some may consider graphic language to cause offence but the terms I have used are the correct ones and I believe used as I have they clarify the meaning of what I am saying.)

Does the Church still approve of the so-called rhythm method. If I understand this correctly it means a couple will have sexual intercourse at a time in the female’s oestrus cycle when there is a very low likelihood of there being a secondary oocyte in the oviduct that could be fertilised by a spermatozoon. Does that not mean the couple are engaging in sexual intercourse that is not open to the procreation of children? Is this method ‘tolerated’ by the Church because it is difficult to predict a ‘safe’ period when the female cannot conceive?

When done correctly it’s actually a very effective method, in most cases it’s better than condoms.

No, what it means is that they are acting within the nature that God gave us. There is no obligation to have relations at any particular time, and we are created such that most of the time the woman is infertile. To be aware of natural cycles and conform our behavior to them does no violence to our nature, nor to the meaning of the marital act. One can’t reasonably conclude that natural marital relations during infertile times are closed to life, on the grounds that He who is Life chooses to not create a new image of Himself at those times.

If relations during the infertile times were intrinsically closed to life, then the Church would teach that one must engage in relations only during fertile times. She does not do so.

I know that condoms are not 100% effective. As far as I am aware they have been shown to be 90+% effective. (To say this should not be read as if I condone their use.) What evidence is there of how successful the rhythm method is? I have spent sometime working in health care and teaching health science. There are a lot of females who do not have regular oestrus cycles.

Using the search string “nfp effectiveness”, this was the first hit on google: sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070221065200.htm

Second hit: usccb.org/prolife/issues/nfp/section2.shtml

Hello Matthew,

The “rhythm method,” pure and simple, is rather antiquated and is not always reliable, as you noted. There are other, more advanced methods that are very effective and are not simply based on the “day of the month.” These methods are not impacted by irregular cycles since they are based on daily observations which can allow the couple to know where the woman is in her cycle. For example, the Billings and Creighton methods.

Regarding what you have said earlier in the thread, I think you are understanding the issue quite well. In my own words, the requirement regarding marital relations is that each act must be, in itself, apt for the generation of offspring.

Dan

Any time the couple engages in intercourse it must be per se ordered to unity and procreation.

Modern methods of natural family planning use observation of the woman’s cycle combined with abstinence from intercourse. This is moral because any time the couple engages in intercourse it’s a completed, unaltered act. A couple can abstain from intercourse as much or as little as they want.

The “rhythm method” is a calendar based method that uses *averages *to determine when to abstain. It is not as accurate as the methods that use observation of the woman’s fertility signs. But, it is absolutely compatible with Catholic moral teaching.

No. Any time the couple engages in intercourse it is a completed, unaltered act of intercourse. A woman is naturally infertile during parts of the month. A couple can have intercoruse or not on any day they choose, and if it’s a completed, unaltered act is it not in any way immoral.

No. The morality of using natural family planning is not related to its “effectiveness.” The modern methods based on fertility signs are highly effective. That does not make them more or less moral.

You have to look at what the couple is doing each time they decide to have intercourse. If they are altering the act (contracepting) they are committing a sin against the Sixth Commandment.

If they decide they have a just reason to space or avoid a pregnancy, or they decide they want to try to get pregnant, they simply use the information they have from monitoring their fertility signs to either have intercours or abstain from it. Each time they do have intercourse, it’s completely unaltered and is ordered to both unity and procreation.

The calendar based methods, which use averages, include calendar rhythm, standard days, and cycle beads. Although the rhythm of the cycle was known in ancient times, the calendar method you are likely referring to came to prominence in the early 1900s, promoted by several Catholic doctors.

Cycle beads and the standard days methods are recent developments, although I don’t know why anyone would use these! Ugh!

These methods are about 75% effective because they use only averages and not any observations of actual fertility signs.

Modern methods of natural family planning are not based on calendar averages. They are based on observing the actual signs of fertility and charting them. This includes basal body temperature at waking, cervical mucus, and cervical position. These methods are over 99% effective.

The modern methods of NFP include:

Sympto Thermal Method taught by Couple to Couple League and Northwest Family Services. Temperature based charting started in the 1930s.

Billings Ovulation Model, developed by the Dr. John Billings in Australia

Creighton Model Fertility Care developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers out of Creighton University and based on the Billings Model.

Marquette Model developed by the Marquette University School of Nursing, based on Creighton with the addition of a fertility monitor/ovulation predictor kit (LadyComp, etc).

These methods have nothing to do with a calendar or averages and “irregularity” in cycles is not an issue.

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