ASK FATHER: Must sterilized couple seek reversal?

From a reader…

With contraception back in the news, a hypothetical question came to my mind. If a couple that has sterilized themselves converts to the faith, what would the church require of them? Contraceptive marital acts are immoral, so would the church require them to abstain from marital acts? To get the sterilization reversed (which can be cost prohibitive)? Or would the church see it more as a medical condition (albeit one that the couple brought upon themselves)?

Having repented of their sinful actions and having confessed their sins and having received absolution, they may receive Holy Communion and continue in their vocations to help each other get to heaven.

Now that the sterilization is a fact, they are not obliged to seek a reversal of the procedure. It is praiseworthy that they do and they may, but they are not strictly obliged.  It is now and existing condition and they are not strictly obliged to reverse it.

They may engage in marital relations.

It seems to me that it would be good for that couple to live a continent life and pay close attention to penances and mortifications in an ongoing way.

At this point it is necessary to remind people that God cannot be fooled.   Someone who would go in for a sterilization thinking “I’ll just confess it later and I am off the hook for good!” would be committing a truly appalling sin.  Such an attitude would be perilous indeed and I would tremble for such a person’s fate.  It shows a callousness about God’s mercy that might verge on being unforgivable without a sincere and deep conversion.

There is nothing that we poor little mortals can do that is so bad that God will not forgive it and remove the stain of the sin from our souls in confession provided that we are truly sorry and that we intend to amend our lives.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Robert_H says:

    Fr Z,

    You forgot to add: GO TO CONFESSION!

  2. doodler says:

    Yet another hypothetical non-question:
    must a couple where the wife has had to undergo a necessary hysterectomy refrain from marital relations? [No.]

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Must they? No.

  4. thebigweave says:

    I know a couple whose story is similar to this. There was no option of reversal, because the wife had had a hysterectomy. When they got married in the Church, they still promised to be open to children. They had no idea what this would look like in their lives, but they took that vow seriously. A few years passed, and due to a dangerous situation with one of the adult children that the wife already had, they are now raising their grandchild.

  5. Dcduo says:

    This doesn’t seem right. [It is right.] As an honest question, why would this be any different than saying to someone “you are absolved, but since you have already bought and paid for the contraception, you aren’t obliged to throw it away”? [This is a different situation.]

    Surely reversing it is the exact same, [It isn’t.] only a little more difficult, [It’s much more difficult.]the instruction can’t be saying that difficulty excuses an evil. []

  6. avecrux says:

    I know couples in this situation who have followed NFP rules as a means of self-discipline… in other words, they take upon themselves periodic continence every month as a symbol of fidelity.

  7. sirmaab says:

    I remember reading this in a Magisterial document, but can’t remember which one it was. I feel it was “Vademecum for Confessors”, but am not sure.

    I’m sure I’ll find it eventually; but does anyone have it handy?

  8. I have also seen what avecrux suggests above. Even if it wasn’t obligatory, why would it not be strongly encouraged?

  9. sirmaab says:

    It’s not strongly encouraged because of the severity of the operation; this severity causes the Church to approach it with prudent caution, and causes Her to advise prudent caution. If the sterilization was imposed by another, the Church doesn’t want anyone to feel pressured to undo it; a reversal shouldn’t cause impecunity, and should be discerned amidst all the risks to personal health and safety. It’s also true that reversals aren’t always successful, so getting a reversal is not like casually flipping a switch. If entering the procedure would cause stress and anxiety, and only have a 60% chance of working, the endeavor might be considered disproportionate. The Church has always cautioned against disproportionate medical care, most recently in “Caritas in Veritate”.

    Most importantly, Fr Z is right; sterilization is not a temporary modification, like medicinal contraception; whether it was self-imposed or imposed by another, sterilization radically changes the state of the body, introducing one into new parameters for discernment.

  10. I was referring to monthly abstinence of a few days.

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