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Impotent Catholic man and woman who are in love

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by January 15, 2019 Canonical Teaching

Question 12: There is a pastoral and canonical issue about impediment of impotency (can. 1084) in marriage.


There are two responsible and committed Catholics (a man and a woman) who love each other but they are medically confirmed to be impotent. They are fully aware of their inability to have conjugal relationship and to bear children. They have the intention to get married and to adopt 2 kids (a girl and a boy).

Now, they approached their parish priest for the sacrament of matrimony. The parish priest from his part, knows the canonical implication of such marriage but confused of what to do. What do you think would be the fate of the intended couple who have accepted their condition and wants to live as husband and wife; and at the same time to be fully involved in the life of the church? Can the Church also accept their predicament and give them the sacrament, since they are sincerely requesting for it?

Answer 12: This is really a difficult case which was never envisaged by the present code. Nevertheless, the case could be seen from two points of view – the canonical and pastoral point of view.

Canonical point of view:

According to Can. 1055 §1 – Marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has between the baptised, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

From this canon on marriage, their situation makes it impossible for them to fulfil some of the basic requirements of marriage – procreation and upbringing of children.

Also can. 1084 §1 says : By reason of its very nature, marriage is invalidated by antecedent and Perpetual impotence to have sexual intercourse, whether on the part of man or on that of the woman, whether absolute or relative.

This canon implies that we are dealing with an impediment that cannot be dispensed by any human authority because it touches the very essence of marriage. This position is very much in consonance with can. 1068 of 1917 code which states that impotence impedes marriage by natural law itself. From the same canon, we get an understanding that this impediment stands whether it is known or not by the parties. The agreement of the parties involved does not affect the invalidity of this impediment.

Moreover, the nature of the impotence should also be known whether it is antecedent (existed before marriage) and perpetual (it is incurable), absolute (the person is incapable of sexual intercourse with anyone of the opposite sex) or relative (incapable of sexual intercourse with a determined individual person of the opposite sex). If the impotence is curable, the priest should encourage the parties to seek medical assistance. If not, it implies that they are ineligible to contract the sacrament of marriage. Therefore, canonically, there is no way out.

However, a further interpretation of can. 1084 §1, puts this question before us, does the law prohibits such a marriage in the case of one of the parties or both? Does the law envisage a situation where mutually incapacitated parties express interest and readiness to live with their situation? The law states “whether on the part of the man or on the part of the woman”. The “or” used in this phrase implies that, if one of the parties is impotent and the other is not, the marriage is invalid. Certainly, the  law never envisaged a case where two impotent persons who are conscious of their condition agree to live together in marriage. In this kind of situation, a recourse to a higher legislative authority may be required – the Roman Rota.

From the Pastoral point of view

While lifting up our eyes from the rudiments of the law to the spirit of the law, we consider the supreme law of the Church which is salus animarum (the salvation of soul). Considering the situation of these two committed and responsible Catholics who found themselves in this state of life (with no fault of theirs), accepted it and intend to move on with both their normal and sacramental life; the legality of the Church should therefore not be overemphasized to the detriment of the souls her children.

Since there is no provision in the law for such marriage, the Parish priest could educate and counsel them about the nature of marriage and why their intended marriage cannot be contracted; He should encourage them to be true friends to each other, with true love and respect for one another. They should be advised to live as brother and sister; go ahead with their plan to adopt children and take care of them. The Church, as we know, recognises the state of living like brother and sister especially in the case of a polygamous man (in his old age) who intends to marry one of his wives and continue to live as brother and sisters with the rest, in order for him to be admitted to Holy Communion. This could also be applicable to a situation of two impotent persons who intend to live together as such. The parish priest on his part, should consult with the local ordinary in order to forestall whatever scandal that might arises from their living together and receiving Holy Communion. It would also be important to investigate their sexual history in order to clear every doubt regarding their sexual orientation, especially, because of the modern challenges of transgenderism and homosexuality.



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