Question from Catholic Answers Show

Hi, all…

I’ve been listening to the Catholic Answers show and Patrick has their Chaplain Father Serpa on.

Throughout the show there have been issues questioning the “conditions” for allowing marriage. Maybe I heard them wrong but I got the impression from a couple of the calls that if a couple is past childbearing age they are not allowed to marry? This, I understand, is because the sacrament of marriage is primarily for bringing children into the world?

Am I understanding this wrong?

Thanks all!


Yes, you are understanding it wrong.

The elderly are not forbidden from marrying. In fact, in the Roman rite of marriage, if the couple is clearly of advanced age, the question on whether they promise willingly accept children is omitted.

What is an impediment is “antecedent and permanent impotence”. That means, if, before the marriage (antecedent), if at least one of the parties is unable to have sexual intercourse, and this condition cannot be cured (permanent), he or she cannot get married.

In short: sterility is not an impediment to marriage. Impotence is. The couple needs to be able to have sex, not necessarily able to have children.

And they say the Catholic Church was against sex…

I think you did misunderstand something. A woman past childbearing age or a man or woman who is sterile may get married and may engage in the marital act.

Sterility and impotency are different matters. If a man or woman cannot complete the marital act they may not marry.

Thanks to both of your replies…

Wow, though, that seems a bit unfair if one has a medical issue that impedes the ability to perform. Is this something that has been brought down thru Tradition? I guess I’ve never seen any Scriptures that suggest that.

LOL! Just when I think I understand I get surprised some more…

Thanks again for your help!



It’s not about being fair or unfair. It’s about getting the marriage consummated and that the spouses get the right (that’s correct, not merely a privilege, but a right) to their spouse’s bodies. Spouses have the right to ask for sexual relations, and without a serious reason to the contrary, have the obligation to give it. To refuse with no good reason is to risk sin, even serious sin. The Catholic Church refuses to marry the impotent because of this right and obligation.

The act of sexual intercourse actually has a real effect on a valid, sacramental marriage. It’s what consummates the marriage and makes it indissoluble, unable to be broken by any power but death. Prior to this, a valid, sacramental marriage that has not been consummated by an act of sexual intercourse can actually be dissolved (not annulled, but actually broken by the proper ecclessiastical authority) leaving the spouses free to remarry.

Let’s start from the phrase marital act. Marriage is the only time sexual intercourse is licit, and the act is to be ordered toward procreation and unity. The act that makes a sacramental marriage indissoluble also renews that indissolubility; it creates a bond between a husband and wife. Sex is for marriage. If two people cannot complete that bond why do they need to be married? There isn’t anything wrong with companionship or being companions but it shouldn’t be called marriage.

I something think that sex has become so casual that people have lost the understanding of how powerful the sexual act is. It creates a significant bond between two people who are very different from each other and can create another person. The bond is important to the marriage and to the family that usually results.

This seems a bit strange, considering that marriage is ordered toward procreation.

It may be omitted.

I wonder if it’s ever omitted for couples in which the bride has had a total hysterectomy, or something similar. I know I would be sorely tempted to roll my eyes at that part and I don’t believe at all that rolling my eyes at my own vows is a good thing.

Why would it have to be omitted? The question that is asked is “will you accept children lovingly from God?”, not “will you bear children?”. In other words, a couple who adopts does accept children lovingly from God!

(But, I see your point – if it’s something that the couple is sensitive about, then a priest could omit this question in this case, as well.)

As a single, I have thought about adoption or foster care but feel I cannot be an effective parent figure for children without a male presence. I have never married and have remained chaste - I don’t know if God has plans for marriage or not in my life but if He has I’m game. Unfortunately, I have a syndrome that will prevent the full “marital act.” There are many ways to be intimate with a partner without total consummation…Gosh. I’ll have to chew on this for awhile…I’d never heard that ever before so it is somewhat of a shock to me…

But thanks for your answers!



No. As long as they can have sex they are good to marry. Impotence is a different matter. There was a call a few months ago where a women called whose fiancé was maimed in war and rendered impotent. It was one of the most brutal and heart wrenching calls I have ever heard and I have been listening to CA for years.

I just can’t imagine Jesus, if He were here, would deny someone from spending their life together for the rest of their lives…

Not trying to be disrespectful to anyone here - just still processing…

When I recently remarried, the priest asked the question “will you lovingly accept children from God?” after which all of those present cracked up…and the priest responded “hey, it could happen! Look at St. Ann!” that shut them up. :stuck_out_tongue:

Exactly. If the Church is going to insist on the centrality of the marital act and the fact of marriage being ordered to procreation (as it does), I don’t understand why this question would not be asked of every couple.

Just stating facts: that for couples of advanced age, the question about children is omitted, or may be. Our own personal thoughts on the matter are irrelevant; that’s the way it is.

So, help my protestant brain here; Say a soldier is set to be married (he has a fiance) and goes to war, his vehicle is blown up, and he is injured in such a way that he is unable to have sex. He comes home to his woman, and is not allowed to marry her, or anyone else for that matter?

It’s harsh, but yes, he cannot marry, if the impotence is permanent.

Well, in that case they could still be together but living as brother and sister perhaps?

Perhaps. But doing so is opening up a can of worms as there are many things to consider. So I don’t repeat myself too much, start with what I said in my earlier post. Now for the can of worms. The church does not allow other forms of sexual stimulation unless they lead up to a completed act of intercourse. If there are romantic or sexual feelings someone is going to become aroused; whether it is one-sided or mutual, since they cannot complete the act licitly, it will lead to frustration.

What about children? A couple may adopt but if they can’t marry they don’t reap the benefits marriage, there are many legal and practical benefits, but the one relevant to this topic is the renewal of the marital bond (unity) that begins with consummation. Renewing that bond strengthens the marriage and a strong marriage is good for the whole family.

I think it’s more likely for a couple that is more mature to live together as companions only. If both are mature and know themselves well enough to not find themselves frustrated or the cause of frustration and not fool themselves that they can live without sex with a person they are attracted to, well, maybe.

No problem with spending your entire lives together, no problem in even getting it legalized civilly, but the Church cannot allow the Liturgy of Matrimony if the spouses cannot ever complete the Liturgical Rite - it’d be like Mass with Communion omitted. There is no Mass.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit