Over the years I have received a number of questions about disabilities and marriage. I am always reminded about one of my first ministerial tasks at the Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia. A 22 year old marine had experienced a training accident which left him a paraplegic. His young and very attractive fiancée was ever at his bedside, holding a hand which could no longer feel hers. He wanted to die. Certainly he did not want to tie her down to a man the doctors insisted would always be an invalid. Her response was to remain by his side and to offer tears of intercession for his pain and their lost dreams. Many years have passed since our encounter, and I am still unsure what might best be said in such a situation. It was not a time to come down on their hopes with a debate about the laws of nature and of the Church. I shared their space, offered them prayers and what consolation I could muster, but I could not take away the depths of their loss.
The marital act open to new life and seeking the good of the beloved is a sign and seal of the sacrament. The marriage covenant is consummated and renewed by it. Cognizant of our nature as bodily persons, the Church is also realistic and pragmatic enough to realize that marriages which shortchange sexual intimacy often fuel the fires of infidelity and alienation. The question here is not simply one of disability, but of the type of disability. Blindness, deafness, loss of certain limbs, etc. pose no such impediment to marriage. Even infertility does not negate the right of marriage if no deceit is present when the vows are made. However, can a person mentally deranged or seriously incompetent get married? No, not if they lack a conscious awareness of the nature and obligations of marriage. A paralyzed person, might be fully aware of the responsibilities of marriage, but be incapable of fulfilling them. The law of the Church in such cases is simply a reflection of the natural law. Having said this, once consummated, a tragic accident of such a nature would not abrogate the bond. The initial consummation, uncoerced and unimpeded by contraception, makes a sacramental marriage indissoluble.
What recourse would a couple have in getting married if one of the members is paralyzed from the neck or even from the waist down? Depending on the situation, the bishop himself may not be at liberty to grant a dispensation for marriage. This would especially be the case if there is no real possibility of recovery and consummation of the bond. Having said this, a very grave concern of the Church would be the use of oral sex as an attempted substitute for the marital act. While permissible in the old morals manuals as a precursor to intercourse, it cannot be sought as an ends unto itself. It falls on many of the same arguments as masturbation and homosexual interactions. Moving on, it is possible that some degree of medication and therapy might restore enough function to fulfill the marital act. In such a case, marriage could be permitted. Further, modern technologies have made available various pump mechanisms (requiring surgery) which would make possible an erection. If there is some transmission of seminal fluid, then again, marriage might very well be permitted. This position is not a reduction of the human person to a gross physicalism but the recognition that our living bodies, inextricable animated by souls, are the real expressions of our identity. Unless forsaken for the kingdom, the needs of these personal bodies– our very selves– cannot be underestimated. Having said all this, there is still another avenue a couple might pursue, although a sexual dysfunction might be coercive in its regard– virginal marriage. They could live their lives promising perpetual virginity along the lines of the Virgin Mary and the good St. Joseph.
Whatever a couple in such a fix decides to do, they will definitely know the Cross. It is my hope that the Church will always show them the redemptive value of joining our sufferings to the passion of Christ. What this world takes away, the next will restore. What this world leaves us, we can utilize for the coming of the next.
Father, this is an interesting summary, and thank you for writing and posting. Here is my question. I have been married for almost 20 years. For the past 7, I have suffered from impotence due to diabetes. My wife and I were blessed with 4 children before the impotence occurred, and were always open to children in our marriage. Since becoming impotent, I have respected my wife’s opinion that we are to remain chaste from now on. Although I have tried all available impotence remedies, none work for us. I would never ask her to do anything she is uncomfortable with, but I cannot grasp how we are forbidden from being intimate even though we can no longer have intercourse. I understand that intercourse is meant to be both procreative and unitive. Impotency has removed our ability to be procreative, but why are we no longer allowed to be unitive, not through intercourse (which we would gladly do if it were at all possible), but through oral or digital stimulation? In the case of sterility, couples are encouraged to be unitive without being able to be procreative. This identification of intercourse as the only unitive act for couples suffering from the heartbreak of impotency pains me. My wife cries about the loss of intimacy. How can this be right? Must we lie together every night and never experience any physical love again? At least a priest’s or homosexual’s decision to remain celibate isn’t constantly tested every night by having the object of their desire lying right next to them. They can remove all “near occasions of sin.” Short of moving out of the marital bed, further removing some of the marital intimacy, I have no recourse to lessen the constant reminder and struggle to understand why the Church deems this to be better for us. It does help to get this off my chest. I do not feel comfortable discussing this with anyone.
Dear Simon, I am sorry for the frustration both you and your wife feel. If you have not already, the problem of impotency might be something better discussed with a professional counselor sympathetic to Catholic teaching. When I discuss generalities, it can come across as cold. Certainly, as a celibate priest, I can in no way appreciate the full personal dynamics of such a situation. You are right; there is a vast difference between a man who sleeps alone and one who rests in bed with the female object of his desire and affection.
I am unable to give you the answer or clarification I know you wish to hear. Although I suppose given the nature of your bond, the moral gravity of an illicit act of affection might be lessened.
While impotency prior to a marriage is an impediment, it has no appreciable effect upon the sacrament afterwards, given that there has been consummation, not to mention, children.
While you suggest a parallel with the question of potency without fertility, the pivotal difference is that the mechanics of the marital act remain the same. It is still the type of act that naturally can result in children and to which the male and female bodies complement each other. Such cannot be said where male potency has been compromised and oral or digital manipulation is pursued.
The Church’s understanding of marital intimacy is more than sexual excitement and physical intimacy. It is the bonding of flesh and souls, with one another and with Jesus. Oral sex and digital manipulation might arguably be closer to masturbation than to the marital act. And while there might be some legitimacy when practiced in tandem with the marital act, the Church resists any complete substitution.
However, if you disagree, I would simply suggest that you regularly bring the matter up in confession, out of respect for Church teaching, and do the best you can to live the Christian life. God knows you love each other and any transgressions from weakness and longing between a husband and wife in such a situation would seem to be small matters to be kept between yourselves and your confessor. It may happen one day that some new therapy or medication may cure the problem. We cannot know the future and should struggle to do the best we can in the present.
There are priests out there who might say, go ahead do what you want, it does not matter. But I cannot in good conscience do that. What I can say is do not despair and know that God is infinitely forgiving and understands how unfair and difficult life can become. If we trip from time to time, he will help pick us up.
Finally, there are some wonderful ways to express intimacy that might restore the romantic elements you both knew when dating and in courtship. Candy and flowers always go a long way. Ballroom dancing is making a come-back. Picnics and boat rides are good. Holding each other tight on a porch swing and sharing lots of hugs and kisses is not so bad either… or so I am told. As spouses you can cuddle and flirt and if things get a little out of hand, well God called you together as lovers and in the heat of passion the boundaries might become blurred on occasion.
Trust each other.
Keep faith in God and in his mercy.
Respect the teachings of the Church.
I will be praying for you both.
Dear Father Joe, I am a young Catholic man (age 24) engaged to be married and have been researching for personal interest “Josephite Marriage” or “White Marriage.”
As I understand it, under Canon Law, a couple where one of the partners is antecedently and perpetually impotent may not contract any marriage.
As I understand it, what a couple exchange in the marriage vows is the right to demand the marital debt from one another (if the request is reasonable and opportune).
In a “virginal marriage” this right is not used by the mutual consent of the couple. This right is mutually given up for the “sake of the kingdom.”
In a “virginal marriage” there is a mutual agreement not to use a right exchanged (the right to the marital debt).
In an antecedently and perpetually impotent couple, the right to the marital debt cannot be exchanged. Hence, there can be no marriage. One cannot exchange what one does not have.
Hence (from what I’ve gathered on the internet), no marriage can take place between a couple in which one or both partners are antecedently and perpetually impotent not even if the non-impotent party agrees to live a virginal marriage. God bless.
Yes, Robert, you are quite right that canon law stipulates that “a couple in which one of the partners is antecedently and perpetually impotent may not contract any marriage.” Actually, Canon 1084 §1 says that it “invalidates the marriage.”
Note, however, that my post was also very tentative, saying that virginal marriage was a course that such a couple “MIGHT pursue” and that “a sexual dysfunction MIGHT be coercive.” I know the prohibition seems absolute on paper, but I have known cases where exceptions were made, particularly if the dysfunction were not absolute.
While confidentiality does not allow me to reveal many details, I can say this much:
1. Such cases were referred to the local bishop.
2. Only after a canonical, medical and pastoral investigation were decisions made.
3. Bishops themselves (in contact with Rome) gave dispensations from the canonical impediment (somewhat controversial because a few of us thought it might be elevating a juridical process over natural law) or argued that Canon 1084 §2 took precedence.
4. Both partners had to make a faith profession and renounce any and all sexual activity for the sake of the kingdom. It was understood, however, that if the problem of impotence should later find medical resolution, that the bishop had the authority to release them from their vowed celibacy.
5. A theoretical conjecture was noted whereby future medical discoveries might restore the partner’s lost sexual capacity.
6. A rather progressive interpretation was given to this law: “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” (Canon 1084 §2 ).
When bishops give such a dispensation and/or ruling, and the news goes public, as you might suspect, there is a lot of controversy. This is particularly so because not all bishops would grant such permission anyway. Speaking as a mere parish priest, I have serious reservations about it, myself.
One case that I recall revolved around the fact that the woman was the paralyzed man’s principal caregiver as well as his best friend. It was also taken into consideration that they were engaged before the accident. Being devout Catholics they wanted to be together, but did not want to commit the scandal of cohabitation outside of marriage. I heard of another case, where a couple already had a child out of wedlock (before the incident that caused paralysis), and they wanted to provide a home with both a father and a mother.
The situation and question can became increasingly complicated, as you can see.
Somewhat as an aside, the whole question of impotence and how it is defined often comes up. Some men resort to implants and pumps so that they can have an erection. While this permits them to have sexual intercourse, this does not mean that they have much if anything in the way of sexual pleasure or sensation because of it. Just the thought of such extremes leaves me almost speechless.
The situation of allowing impotent men to marry, for the male is where the gravity rests in our theology, is a serious risk on many levels. People are sexual beings. A young woman married to a paralyzed man would naturally desire sexual congress with her husband; the real danger exists that improper acts might be committed and even adultery. The impotent and/or paralyzed man is also taking a terrible chance, as he may find himself emotionally frustrated at not being able to fulfill his marital duty toward his spouse. They might also commit the sin of invitro-fertilization after harvesting sperm cells. In the past, paralyzed people were almost always refused the marriage rite; however, medical discoveries have made people increasingly optimistic about recovery of some sensation and mobility. I am not sure yet if this current optimism is well enough founded on hard science to recommend liberality regarding impotence and freedom to marriage. If impotence is not reversed, the healthy spouse could readily leave the marriage and seek an annulment on the grounds that there was no consummation. Such cases go to Rome. In any case, this leaves the handicapped man open to abandonment.
Aquinas admitted that sexual copulation was not essential to marriage, thus why virginal marriages are even possible; however, he was quick to assert that marriage gives both spouses the natural right over the other spouse’s body for the purpose of the marital act. A permanently paralyzed and/or impotent man cannot consummate the bond, either in actuality or potency. Nevertheless, the female spouse has a right to that unitive act that furthers both fidelity and procreation.
It should be added that if a man is injured (becoming paralyzed and/or impotent) after marriage and its consummation with the marital act, the couple remain married and must endure with faithfulness and courage the plight that has come to them.
Please, someone tell me this particular column is a cruel joke, kind of like a news story from the Onion website.
About a tragic subject, for sure, but this page is entirely serious.
Father Joe, good reasoning in your discussion; my prostate removal has left me not only with ED but also with the absence of seminal fluid. Periodically, I use injections for an erection which “sometimes” is shared with my wife depending on timing, etc. When this happens, it is used to a good moral use well within Church guidelines. But on many other occasions, there is neither erection nor fluid. My wife and I feel that we need to keep our intimacy strong or the relationship will fade leaving both of us blind to each other’s love. Is oral not an option at our age of 64 and married 41 years? Thank you and confused.
Sexual expression and/or the marital act are precious gifts to married couples. However, if the marital act should become difficult or impossible, then the couple should explore chaste forms of affection and signs of love, as with the initial courtship. Dinner and a movie, snuggling on the couch, holding hands and taking walks, kisses and cuddling, etc. You also have your memories.
I have been told by a priest that artificial insemination is allowed if one’s spouse is sterile by deformity (but not impotent) and that to alleviate the “frustration” of the woman to bear a child of her womb, the Church would not reject this couple or child. Is there precedent for this?
What the priest told you is not true. Artificial insemination is forbidden without exception by the Church. The reasoning is that every human being should come into existence through the marital act. There can be no third party intervention in the act of bonding and mutual surrender of the spouses to each other and to divine providence. There is a precise act that God has instituted for the creation of human beings. Artificial insemination and IVF can create the mentality that children are commodities. Further, Christianity teaches that children are a gift from God; no one has a RIGHT as such to a child.
If a couple violate moral law and defy the Church, the Church would not reject the couple and/or the child. The child is innocent and cannot be faulted for the misbehavior of parents, no matter whether it be through illicit fertilization procedures or acts of rape or incest. The parents can know absolution if they express some small degree of sorrow and subsequent respect for Church authority.
Father Joe, I met my wife in Medugorje. We wrote letters to each other over the years and fell in love. One day she said to me over the phone, “When you find out about me, you will have the choice to come or go.” I didn’t know then what it meant. I had many guesses in my mind. But none were reasonable. Then one night while in prayer I heard what I believe was the Lord. He told me what was wrong with her and asked me if I would love her. I said yes. A few moments later the phone rang and it was her. I told her what was wrong and she was surprised. I also told her that I would love her.
My wife had cancer when she was 2 years old. They took her uterus, vagina and eggs. Everything was taken leaving a scar and a clitoris. There is no penetration.
I went to Medugorje with her again and asked a priest if marrying her was the right choice despite her impotency. He said we could be together as long as we lived as the angels do.
She further went and talked to her local bishop who said marriage in the church was not possible, but we could do a legal marriage to be together so long as we live chastely.
The day we got married, it was not our intention. It was the only day my sister could organize with the judge, April 14, 2006— Good Friday of that year.
We have lived together for 3 years now. My wife does have feeling in her clitoris and I am a fully capable male. If we did do anything, would it be wrong for us to do? Can we get married in the Catholic Church? If not, do we seek this Virginal Marriage from our local bishop and would it constitute as a marriage inside the church?
Also, we ran into a priest who said our legal marriage was wrong, we couldn’t adopt kids, and he tried to make my wife promise we would separate after some time. He said he wouldn’t give her absolution in confession unless she promised to do so. She did not promise it. She came to me in tears.
I love my wife. She has stuck with me through a war, taken care of me, and we both share a cross. I couldn’t see myself with anyone else. Do I need to seek a miracle and if so, how do I do that?
I would suggest that you seek out someone in the diocesan chancery and/or authorities in Catholic medical ethics. Infertility would not prevent marriage. The issue is impotency and the marital act. There are many points here which are unique to your case and would need to be explored by experts, both in medicine and in Church law. I can only speculate, but would it be possible to surgically refashion a type of female genitalia for her? I know there have been cases of men, particularly those with paralysis, who have had pumps surgically inserted to make the marital act possible. Oral and anal sex are disapproved as beneath human dignity and do not constitute consummation of the bond. A virginal relationship would pose no particular problem, but a Catholic marriage respecting sexual intimacy poses important hurdles for you both. Vowed virginal marriages in the Church are fairly rare, and usually require that a couple denounces vaginal sex, not that they are incapable of it.
I am sorry for the suffering you both endure and regret that you feel hurt by the hard counsel of a brother priest. I wish I had more answers for you or those you so desperately want to hear. Even if you should be asked to refrain from Holy Communion, go to Mass each Sunday and pray daily with each other. Yours are not sins of malice. Your struggle is with love, affection and the frailty of the human condition. You will both remain in my prayers.
Father Joe, re: Josephite Marriage, and your previous discussion of it, I fail to understand just what kind of union results from the exchange of promises, (of chastity and fidelity), in a marriage in which one of the principals is irreversibly impotent. Is there a real covenant? One which is just as binding civilly and religiously as in a normal marriage? Can’t understand why the healthy party in such cases can’t just, willy nilly, choose to walk away, without considering the medium of divorce or annulment.
I did say that “a sexual dysfunction might be coercive in its regard– virginal marriage,” meaning that such an alternative would be problematical. The post was originally written some time back and I am not sure I meant a “Josephite marriage,” probably just an analogous spiritual friendship. A true Josephite marriage would imply that a couple freely opted not to exercise their genital prerogatives. Impotence means there is no choice, no potential for the marital act.
I came across this post today when trying to look into this issue as it has been bothering me. I may be wrong, but I thought that in the case of a “properly functioning” couple, John Paul II drew a distinction between oral sex for men and women. As I understand the teaching, since the female orgasm has nothing to do with conception, oral stimulation of the woman is permitted even if not in conjunction with a completed act of intercourse. At least that’s how I have had the teaching explained to me. If that’s the case, I still can’t wrap my head around why, for a couple for whom conception is impossible (i.e. a couple where one partner is impotent), the teaching would be any different. In other words, I didn’t think the “no oral sex without completed act of intercourse” rule was about conception and being open to life, not about mechanics of the act. If the couple would be open to life but for the impotence, I’m not sure how oral sex for this couple is different than the permissible oral sex on a woman in a normal-functioning couple.
I do not recall the late pope making any such distinction that would permit female masturbation. The marital act is defined as that sexual act which is the type of act that is open to the transmission of human life. Pleasure for both men and women is an enticement for intercourse that is required for the propagation of the species. It is also an ingredient in the fidelity of the spouses. While the old moral manuals permitted a certain level of foreplay to facilitate the marital act, as well as manipulation of the female if the male climaxed too quickly, such stimulation apart from intercourse was frowned upon. As far as I know, nothing has changed. I suspect someone taught you wrong. Where is Pope John Paul II supposed to have said otherwise? The late pope gave an emphasis upon spousal fidelity that was sometimes eclipsed by procreation in Catholic thinking; but nothing in his theology of the body overturned basic morality.
I went back and looked at what I had read, and I suppose you are right that oral sex on a woman is not permitted in and of itself. But here is what I read (by Christopher West) that is still not quite what you are saying:
“The acts by which spouses lovingly prepare each other for genital intercourse (foreplay) are honorable and good. But stimulation of each other’s genitals to the point of climax apart from an act of normal intercourse is nothing other than mutual masturbation… An important point of clarification is needed. Since it’s the male orgasm that’s inherently linked with the possibility of new life, the husband must never intentionally ejaculate outside of his wife’s vagina. Since the female orgasm, however, isn’t necessarily linked to the possibility of conception, so long as it takes place within the overall context of an act of intercourse, it need not, morally speaking, be during actual penetration… Ideally, the wife’s orgasm would happen simultaneously with her husband’s [orgasm], but this is easier said than done for many couples. In fact, if the wife’s orgasm isn’t achieved during the natural course of foreplay and consummation, it would be the loving thing for the husband to stimulate his wife to climax thereafter (if she so desired).”
Yes, he is correct. I have not written anything which contradicts this. Onanism is still a sin, no matter whether alone or with a partner. Strictly speaking, this regards the male “spilling the seed.” Foreplay that includes male climax is not foreplay. Rather, it has wrongly been substituted for the marital act. Similarly, after intercourse, the manipulation of the female by the husband so that she might climax has been judged as lawful by moralists.
I recognize that Christopher West is not an official authority in the Church, but if what he’s saying is true, while I’m wrong that female stimulation is permitted as an isolated act, it would appear that oral sex as foreplay is not “frowned upon” as you say, nor is some female stimulation prohibited even after sex (which does not confine it just to the realm of “foreplay”). This is also consistent with what is written in the book “Holy Sex,” written by a number of modern Catholic theologians.
What West writes is okay, however, your commentary is not clear. Foreplay is only frowned upon if the male climaxes without true intercourse. But, as I said, then it is not foreplay but simply oral sex or masturbation. Give me the quote where I am wrong and I will correct it. Peace!
Are implants to treat impotence banned by Church teaching where there are no other alternative treatments to achieve a valid marriage?
Implants, as such, are not banned.
Are surgically implanted pumps allowed as a means of overcoming impotence?
It is a tricky and somewhat controversial business. Evidently bishops will sometimes give a dispensation for marriage after the implantation of such pumps. The argument is that with this intervention the impotence is no longer absolute. I am not sure if all bishops are happy with such a compromise. Particularly in cases of paralysis, it might make the mechanics possible, but the man would still not feel anything. How would this affect their mutual self-donation and bonding in the marital act? There may be little other recourse after marriage. If paralysis or injury brought about such serious impotence in a man prior to marriage, I would probably advise a reconsideration altogether. People are not machines and the flesh is weak. My perspective might seem cold, heartless and cynical. I do not intend to come across this way. But I have seen too many relationships of this sort, between a woman and impotent man, fall apart with the most devastating consequences. Could not such men settle for simple and chaste friendships?
My question is not related directly to this topic, but I have been searching for an answer and cannot find it, so figured I’d try here.
Thirteen years ago, upon learning that I was pregnant with our sixth child, my husband, against my wishes, had a vasectomy. This nearly broke our marriage and it took a long time to recover. (He was not raised Catholic and is a convert who struggles with the ban on contraceptives.)
Since that time, there have been a few occasions (very few) where during sexual activity he has engaged in self-stimulation along with the mutual activity. Usually, this all ultimately ends up with penetration taking place and the completion of the sex act as it should; but on a couple of occasions, he has ejaculated outside of [the body].
As the ejacula no longer carries sperm, and as the intent at the beginning of the sexual activity was to complete internally, is this a mortal sin?
First, the vasectomy was wrong and sinful for several reasons. It is regarded as a mutilation of the human person and the generative powers. It reflects a contraceptive mentality wherein the openness to human life which is intrinsic to the marital act is spurned. Upon repentance, and where possible, the Church would also recommend repair of the damaged faculties.
Second, there may have been emotional healing, but an important element of the sacramental reality of your marital covenant remained wounded.
Third, given the vasectomy, it would seem that the matter of a ban upon artificial contraceptives would be a “personally” mute point. He has embraced perpetual infertility over periodic sterility. Many lifelong Catholics also dissent upon this matter. He may have been a convert, but did he “convert” enough?
Fourth, while an element of manipulation may be understood as foreplay and preparation for the marital act; such activities must not be pursued in themselves or seen as independent. Human beings are not animals and the marital act should not be reduced to cold mechanics. It is ideally a self-donation and surrender to the beloved. While accidents do happen, we should still be watchful against the sin of Onanism.
Fifth, the intention behind the actions that surround the marital act do have moral weight. However, the fact that the ejacula is deficient or void of sperm does not matter in this situation of self-manipulation or arousal outside the marital act.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) treatment has evolved a lot from traditional times. Earlier this problem was believed to be caused by psychological factors only, but now we know better, so have the treatments.
What do you do when you have been married for nearly 9 years and your husband has never been able to properly [fulfill the marital act]? The cause being diabetes but you didn’t know this until recently. He is able to bring you to climax [through manipulation] but you find this, although better than nothing, very much unsatisfactory. Also you can’t talk about how you feel with him. Also facing the temptation of other males on the scene for which intercourse would be very easy. Is this a real marriage or should it be annulled?
Dear Rosie, I am far from an authority upon such issues and this is a somewhat delicate question. However, there are a few points I would like to note:
First, as a married couple you should be able to dialogue with your spouse about your personal needs in this relationship. It might be hard, but nothing can be done to help the situation unless you work together.
Second, your marriage should go deeper than issues like pleasure in the mutual act. It is important, but you have both entered into a covenant where sacrifices will have to be made.
Third, I would urge you to avoid both actual temptation and fantasies toward adultery. Take the matter of divorce and annulment off the table. You have been married for almost a decade. Fight for your marriage and love one another, “for better or for worse” until death do you part.
Fourth, do not be afraid to work with a doctor who might be able to help you both. Not all physical problems can be overcome, but sometimes situations can be much improved. Peace!
I have a question. You said, “Somewhat as an aside, the whole question of impotence and how it is defined often comes up. Some men resort to implants and pumps so that they can have an erection. While this permits them to have sexual intercourse, this does not mean that they have much if anything in the way of sexual pleasure or sensation because of it. Just the thought of such extremes leaves me almost speechless.”
And later, you suggested that the woman who had surgery for cancer at age 2 that removed her vagina (and uterus, and ovaries), have surgery to create an artificial vagina. Can you help me understand Church law regarding these types of surgeries? And why have you tied male sexual pleasure as a necessity of the marital act? Especially since, as you pointed out, “Second, your marriage should go deeper than issues like pleasure in the mutual act. It is important, but you have both entered into a covenant where sacrifices will have to be made.”
It seems to me that whatever couples decide upon as being mutually agreeable to bind them together as a couple should be permissible, whether that is allowing impotent couples to come together in intimacy of their own choosing or allowing couples to marry who know that what they currently have in a physical relationship (i.e., paraplegics, etc.) is all they can lawfully have. I should think that the binding thread here is LOVE. Having read the entire page today, it seems to me that the unlawful marriage of the couple from Medjugorie is far more of a loving union than Rosie’s marriage of almost a decade. My heart goes out to all the couples here. You are struggling with much. And I am struggling to understand myself.
The marital act is defined by the Church in light of natural law. Other forms of intimacy and/or sexual congress have neither the capacity to consummate the marital covenant nor any significant degree of fecundity. The general subjective experience (which often includes some degree of pleasure) furthers the good of fidelity between spouses. My emphasis is not directly upon pleasure but upon the capacity of a couple to engage in non-contraceptive sexual intercourse as a requirement for marriage.
As for the reconstruction of genitalia, the morality hinges upon the repair of something impaired, as through accident or cancer. Such repair is not always possible. Further, no such reconstruction should seek to alter the external gender in contradiction to that given at birth and in the DNA. The Church opposes so-called sex-change operations and views such measures in terms of self-mutilation and the unlawful or immoral damaging of physical faculties.
You would accept as legitimate “whatever couples decide upon as being mutually agreeable to bind them together as a couple.” However, by extension, this is also the erroneous argument posed by homosexuals seeking the recognition of their unions as a form of marriage. The problem is that the marital act between a man and woman, defined as non-contraceptive vaginal intercourse, allows for no substitutions. One can feign the act, either through choice or because the actual act is impossible, but such neither consummates nor renews the marital covenant. Instead of a virtuous act which brings grace, there would be the commission of sin instead. That is the Catholic view, again based upon divine positive law and especially natural law. Love and friendship are indeed important. But one can have both outside of sexual relationships. Indeed, as a celibate priest, I have dedicated my life to the love of God and to the service of his people. Marriage is not the only sacrament of love. The ordination of a priest is a sacrament of love. Indeed, our common baptism into the family of God is the first and most basic sacrament of love. The right to marriage is not absolute. If it were, we would have to pass out spouses just as we distribute bread to the hungry. It does not work that way.