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Prolife Forum: Can infertile people marry?

by Catherine Frakas 26 May 2002

Can infertile people marry? QUESTION from Suzanne on September 12, 2002 I've recently read Christopher West's book on sex & marriage along with some other Catholic writings, and am wondering about the possibility of someone who is knowingly infertile entering into a Catholic marriage.
It's my understanding that a person who could never have sex wouldn't be able to marry, but I'm wondering how that line of thought extends into the realm of infertile people.
Obviously if a person had never tried to have a baby, then usually they wouldn't realize their condition until trying to acheive preganancy AFTER getting married. No problem there.
However, what about the person who, prior to marriage, had surgery which affected their fertility (i.e., a man who had testicular cancer)?
Would it make a difference if the person had purposely caused themselves to become infertile (i.e., sterilization during a previous marriage)? What if they had since repented for that sin?
Also, if a couple knew they were infertile, could they marry and be open to life via being open to adoption?
I guess this is rather hair-splitting, but I'm interested in knowing how the Church might officially come down on this.
Thanks and God Bless, Suzanne.
ANSWER by Mr. Troy Martz on October 15, 2002 Dear Suzanne:
Thank you for your question. You have pointed out a subtle distinction that may people miss -- the difference between infertility and impotence.
Since you asked for the Catholic Church's official stance, here is what Canon Law has to say:

Can. 1084 §1 Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have sexual intercourse, whether on the part of the man or on that of the woman, whether absolute or relative, by its very nature invalidates marriage. §2 If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether the doubt be one of law or one of fact, the marriage is not to be prevented nor, while the doubt persists, is it to be declared null.
§3 Without prejudice to the provisions of can. 1098, sterility neither forbids nor invalidates a marriage.

Church law is clear in both instances: Perpetual impotence is an barrier to consumating marriage, but perpetual infertility is not.
In other words, marital relations in the form of intercourse are an integral part of the matter of the Sacrament while the ability to produce children is not. Just as the Eucharist requires both proper form (the prayer of consecration by an ordained priest) and matter (bread and wine), Marriage requires the proper form (free exchange of vows by eligible man and woman) and proper matter (full gift of self through sexual intercourse of husband and wife).
Sterility does not invalidate marriage as long as both husband and wife give each other freely and fully and remain as open to life as they are able. Certainly, the examples you gave of someone becoming sterile due to medical treatment such as testicular cancer does not involve sin. But even if one has in the past intentionally permanently sterilized oneself, that sin can be forgiven through a sincere confession. [Such past one-time acts are entirely different from ongoing intentional sterilization through contraception. You cannot truly receive forgiveness for a sin that you intend to commit again in the near future. Part of the confession is a sincere committment to avoid the sin in the future.]
By the way, your suggestion that couples facing infertility be open to life through adoption is a wonderful application of the principle being taught here. The couple can express the life-giving nature of their marriage through many means, but certainly adoption is one of the most powerful ways to be a witness to the Gospel of Life.
Remember that Jesus said, Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.
Pax Christi, Troy
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