The Validity of Marriage and Procreation

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.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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7 Responses to The Validity of Marriage and Procreation

  1. Matt Z. says:

    This is a very clear, in depth blog post on what constitutes a valid marriage. This teaching is directly in line with what Servant of God Fr.John Hardon SJ teaches on valid marriages. This teaching needs to be in included in Pre-Cana classes and put in Church Bulletins.

  2. Dora says:

    Many people are deceived because in explaining how the Pill works, nurses and doctors don’t use the word “embryo” but continue to describe the human being which is being passed from the body as the “fertilized egg.” Thankfully ultrasound has broken through that myth of a fetus as “tissue.”
    Three questions:
    Would unholy marriages as described above be depraved in the same way as a same sex marriage? more? less?
    Likewise, is use of barrier methods far less egregious than the Pill, objectively?
    Finally, if a couple marries with no intent to have children, but their contraception fails, then she has the child, but never again has “unprotected” sex. Valid marriage?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Invalid attempted marriage is not as disordered as same-sex marriage. Far less disordered.
      A barrier method of mere contraception is much less sinful than the Pill, which is abortifacient. But both are mortal sins.
      The final case is not a valid marriage: no intent or openness to the primary purpose of marriage, and no consummation. Accidental conception is not consummation, as the couple did not choose an inherently procreative act.

  3. Mark P. says:

    So it appears Canon Law is detached from any meaningful teachings in marriage preparation / pre-Cana courses. Was there “marriage prep” prior to Vatican II? I honestly am not sure when it became a requirement. But these days it is really just a “check in the box,” a mere veneer of “preparing” couples for a sacramental, life-long union. The Holy Father is right – priests get 7 or 8 years of training, but married couples get 7 or 8 hours. If the Church actually takes his words seriously, we may see a change. But unfortunately, it seems like there is more focus on climate change, blessing abnormal unions, and trying to undermine infallible teachings by many in the Church these days. The vast majority of Catholics view the sacraments as a mere category of actions, not aware of any supernatural or divine elements to them. Again my claim is that the Church is largely ineffective at teaching. Many Protestants, based on respectable poll numbers, have a much better grasp of Catholic moral positions than even Catholics do. And why is that? Perhaps their pastors preach these issues to them? I often ask myself, rhetorically, what good is having the “fullness of the sacraments” if we cannot actually live out the Christian life that the sacraments are said to engender? There is certainly an incongruity between what the Church claims about the sacraments, and the way many Catholics live their lives.

  4. Grindall says:

    I am praying at some point you will break down this whole transgendering business. Nothing seems obvious to ordinary people anymore, and now parents want to transgender their own children.

    • Ron Conte says:

      There are passages in the Bible which can be interpreted as condemning transgenderism. See this article:
      Also, consider this Bible verse:
      [Deuteronomy 22]
      {22:5} A woman shall not be clothed with manly apparel, nor shall a man make use of feminine apparel. For whoever does these things is abominable with God.

      The soul is figuratively clothed with the body. [Certainly, body and soul are closely united as one person, such that the soul is the form of the body. But here I’m using a figure of speech.] So when the Bible forbids as an abomination a woman being clothed with manly apparel, the meaning is a condemnation of transgenderism, in which the woman tries to become a man by surgery, or a man tries to become a woman by surgery.

      Cross-dressing is also condemned by this passage. However, this does NOT mean that a woman cannot wear pants, or that a man cannot wear a kilt, etc. The idea is to have men and women dress and groom themselves so as to show their cooperation with God’s plan to have the human race divided into two genders.

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