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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 07 May 2002

Chastity, Celibacy QUESTION from Karen Towle Costa May 30, 1999 Hello! I am contemplating celibacy and have been praying about this situation: I am a single mother of a young boy (but that's another story...). During my pregnancy I became very ill with an infection in my heart. Not long after I gave birth, I needed open heart surgery to save my life.
I live with a plastic heart valve now, and I must take blood thinners for the rest of my life. If I do not, I will die from blood clots. (In fact, while doctors were adjusting my dosage, I suffered a small stroke because my blood wasn't thin enough.)
This medication would affect a baby in my womb; in fact it would kill it. The medication would not prevent me from becoming pregnant, however. But it would cause severe birth defects and certain hemmorhage/death of the baby. There are no other, safe medications to keep my blood thin.
So I ponder this...if marriage exists for the creation and education of children and I can not bear children, then what is the teaching of the Church regarding this situation? In addition, I could not bear to think of unborn children dying inside me...Given the sexual duties of marriage and the risk of conception, am I on the right track in thinking God may intend for me to be a single celibate for the rest of my life? (This thought is not at all distressing to me, though I am saddened that I am not able to have any more children.)
Your guidance is greatly appreciated. God bless your works.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on June 2, 1999 Dear Miss Costa:
First let me express my sympathies concerning your medical and personal situation. I know it must be a tough thing. But take heart that God knows our hearts, and our desires, and He has great compassion for you and your situation. We shall pray for you.
As for the specifics, you are asking a question that probably needs to be asked of a good and loyal moral theologian, but I will try to answer the question as best as I can.
Indeed, marriage, as the Catechism affirms is, by its very nature … is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory. No. 1652
The Church does allow for the regulation of births for just and appropriate reasons. Medical reasons would certainly be a valid reason I believe.
But the use of contraceptives would not be permissible. The use of methods such as National Family Planning techniques is possible, but the most of the writing on this refers to temporary continence, not a permanent situation. The question I think would be what the Church would teach in terms of a permanent continence within marriage (living as brother and sister).
In terms of being already married, I believe that it is permissible for a husband and wife to agree among themselves and without coercion to the other to agree to live as brother and sister in order to avoid the medical problems that come up if the woman gets pregnant. (I think that is the case, but not certain about that at all).
I am even less certain, however, about whether it is permissible for single people to go into marriage with an agreement already in place to practice continence in sexuality. There might be some canon law issues involved in whether such a marriage is valid in that case. A canon lawyer might be able to answer that one.
I would suggest that you talk with your bishop, or perhaps members of the Marriage Tribunal in your diocese about those details of what is and what is not possible in your circumstances concerning marriage.
Contraception is certainly out, but NFP practiced indefinitely (which of course leaves open always the possibility of pregnancy) might be permissible.
As far as deciding to remain celibate (not married) that is certainly a possible choice, but with a small child, perhaps purposely remaining single is not in his best interest. It is always better to raise children with both and mother and a father in the house.
But as to the particulars in this case, I think you ought to discuss this with your spiritual director or pastor, and perhaps your bishop or other person in your diocese who is an expert at moral theology and canon law concerning marriages.
If you can’t find a more definitive answer, let me know and I will research it more thoroughly.
God Bless.
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