From a reader…
Would the use of birth control to delay children for a time invalidate marriage? Likewise, would the intention to divorce IF the spouse committed adultery invalidate the marriage?
Two questions… I normally don’t take twofers, but I’ll make an exception.
The use of artificial birth control, – even for a time, would be gravely sinful. It would give rise to legitimate questions about the intentions of the parties with regards to marriage: are they truly intent on sharing in a partnership of the WHOLE of life, if they chose to withhold this natural activity? If they’re using a barrier method of birth control, are they truly intent to share human intimacy with each other? If they’re using abortifacient methods, how do they understand the good of the spouse? Have they enticed their spouse into sin, or do they willingly cooperate with their spouses sinful intention?
The use of artificial contraception, sinful as it is, would not automatically invalidate matrimonial consent in and of itself. It would give rise to serious questions.
Marriage is intended to be open to life. In the marriage rite one says to one’s partner (and to the whole Church), “I give you my whole self. I am open to give you not only my life, but my potential children as well.” To withhold part of one’s life is to make that profession of marriage consent a lie.
Couples who marry can agree, mutually, to use natural means of avoiding childbirth for a time, for a legitimate reason. For example, a married couple who are studying overseas in a three-year program might choose to wait until they return home to have children. Or, a couple who just had a child who has special needs might want to wait a bit before giving the child a sibling.
I caution couples to avoid the mistaken notion that, after getting married, they should wait a few years before having children so they can, “have some time to just get to know each other.” That can easily play in to selfishness.
Think about it. Here are a couple scenarios.
Within the first few years of marriage even the most “in love” couples will have moments where they don’t particularly care for each other. Perhaps they have a vicious argument. The husband, at work, dreads going home to face his wife and to merely dive back into the argument. He can hardly stand to look at her. So, he goes out for a beer with his work colleagues. Then a second. Then a third. It becomes easy to avoid each other, the argument never gets resolved, and Satan has his way – he has driven a couple apart from each other. [CUT TO BLACK – ABRUPT MINOR CHORD]
A second scenario. The husband is at work and dreads going home to face his wife, but he knows that she is home with his infant son. He may not want to see his wife, but he is still in love with, and fascinated by his baby boy. So he goes home, perhaps grudgingly, but he goes home. He avoids his wife, but goes into the room where his baby is sleeping. He picks up this child and the emotional and psychological feelings of love – the ineffable parental bond – fill his heart. As he looks at the child whom he loves, the baby wakes up and smiles. He has his mothers dimples. He is reminded of the commitment of love he has for his wife. He takes the child into the living room and holds him out to his mother. He has his fathers eyes. The two resolve to sit down and work on their disagreement. [THE MUSIC SWELLS]
A little florid? Sure. But don’t kid yourselves. This is how life works. It is how the Enemy of the Soul works and it is now we are hard wired to work.
As to the second part of the question, for Latin Church Catholics marriage is invalid if one or both spouses enter into marriage while placing a condition concerning the future (e.g., “I marry you as long as you become the King of England,” or “I marry you as long as you stop smoking,” or “I marry you as long as you remain faithful to me.”) One should certainly expect certain things of one’s spouse, and one of those things has to be fidelity, right? But there is a categorical difference between conditional consent (“If you cheat on me, that makes our marriage invalid and I’m therefore free to marry another.”) and legitimate expectations (“If you ever cheat on me, I’m moving out and might even consider divorce.”)
In looking at specific situations, rather than merely at hypotheticals, it is best to entrust these questions to the legitimately authorized Church authorities at the diocesan tribunal. They can make the determination. They are trained to examine the necessary details and contingent circumstances.
Armchair diagnoses of specific marriages – especially by the untrained layman – without having all the facts and testimony at hand is generally unhelpful.
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