Consider the following scenarios:
1. After the couple have been married for some time, the husband commits adultery and runs off with his adulteress.
The marriage remains valid, as adultery cannot nullify a valid Sacrament. The innocent spouse cannot remarry.
2. After the couple have been married for some time, the wife discovers that the husband has been cheating on her, continuously, from a point in time well before the wedding, and continuing from the earliest days after the wedding ceremony.
This behavior shows that he lacked the intention to contract a lifelong and exclusive bond of matrimony. Therefore, the marriage may be annulled, as it appears to be invalid.
3. The couple exchange vows at the wedding ceremony. However, the wife continually uses the birth control pill, from the time of the wedding (perhaps beginning beforehand) and thereafter. At no time subsequent to the wedding ceremony has this couple consummated their marriage with natural marital relations open to life.
Is this marriage validly contracted? Yes, but not validly consummated. So it is ratum tantum, not ratum et consummatum. And that means the marriage can be dissolved, under the usual (fairly narrow) conditions.
Now some authors dispute this point, claiming that contracepted sex still suffices to consummate the marriage. But Canon Law is clear:
“Can. 1061 §1. A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.”
Contracepted sex is NOT “suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring”, meaning that it is not an inherently procreative sexual act. Therefore, such a marriage is invalid.
4. Similarly, if the couple, after the wedding ceremony, never have natural marital relations, but only perform unnatural sexual acts, the marriage is unconsummated.
5. In BOTH #3 and #4 above, if the couple contracted marriage with the specific intention to act by any deliberate means to deprive their marriage of its inherent ordering toward the primary purpose: generatio et educatio prolis — then the marriage vows are invalid. So there is no consent if one or both parties intend to deprive their marriage of openness to new life. Now this applies to marriages in which the couple have sex, contracepted and/or unnatural sex. It is possible to have a valid marriage which is never consummated, though this is rare, and would require a grave reason, since marriage is by its nature ordered toward the procreation and education of children.
6. If a couple are both elderly, so that their acts of natural marital relations are highly unlikely to produce children, the marriage is still valid. In such a case, the natural marital act retains its inherent ordering toward the good end of procreation, and the couple themselves do nothing to deprive their acts or their marriage of children.
7. What if the wife has been using the birth control pill, a type of abortifacient contraception, during the entire course of their marriage without exception, for a medical purpose?
A. As I’ve explained in prior posts, the use of abortifacients is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. And intrinsically evil acts are not justified by any purpose, not even a medical purpose. Euthanasia is not justified by the medical purpose to relieve all suffering. Direct abortion is not justified by the medical purpose to save the mother’s life. Masturbation is not justified by the medical purpose of obtaining a specimen for diagnosis of a disease or of infertility. So abortifacients are not justified to treat a medical problem. Therefore, the use of abortifacient contraception by a woman who is sexually active is a mortal sin, even when she has a good purpose in mind.
A woman may use the birth control pill for a medical reason, if she refrains from all sexual intercourse. But if she decides that having sex with her husband is so important that it justifies aborting their own unborn children, they sin gravely. A medical purpose does not justify any intrinsically evil act. In addition, a medical purpose does not justify an act with grave bad consequences which can be entirely avoided while still obtaining the medical benefits. If two different versions of an act both give the same medical benefit, and only one of them results in the deaths of unborn children, you are morally required to choose the course of action that does not kill the unborn.
B. But does the use of the birth control pill, continuously from the very start of a marriage, imply that the marriage was never consummated?
If the couple intend to avoid all procreation of offspring, then the vows themselves are invalid. If they intend to have offspring at some time, and only intend to treat a medical disorder, the act remains intrinsically evil. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
But in addition, the marriage is not validly consummated. The reason is that this particular medical purpose involves the deliberate choice of an intrinsically evil act, one that is ordered to kill the offspring in the womb. Therefore, the act is not “suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring” AND it is contrary to the primary purpose of marriage, since any offspring conceived, despite the contraceptive action of the pill, are almost always killed by the abortive action of the pill.
Many marriages are not holy and do not please God.
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