ASK FATHER: Marital relations after a tubal ligation 22 years ago out of fear of pregnancy

From a reader…


I am very uneasy in my conscience. Twenty-two years ago, after the birth of our fourth child (last 3 were high risk pregnancies that ended in C-sections), my wife felt she was too old (38) to risk another pregnancy. She went to our parish priest to ask about tubal ligation. He told her that he had no advice, that she should do whatever she felt in conscience would be best. She went ahead and had it.

Just last week it occurred to me that for the last 22 years all of our marital acts have been objectively sinful. I confessed this, but the priest said nothing about it. Am I right in my thinking? I am now in my seventies and my wife is in her sixties. If we continue to have relations, are we committing mortal sins?

Firstly, that priest, 22 years ago, did you a disservice.  In order to have committed a mortal sin, you have to had known that it was wrong and you have to have intended with full will to do it anyway.  The fact that you asked a priest suggests you suspected it was wrong.  But… the priest left you in midair.  Given the unhelpful response of the priest, the circumstances of your ages, the reality of the C-sections, and the emotional turmoil you were surely experiencing, I suspect that you didn’t incur the guilt of the act of the ligation, even though it was intended precisely to avoid pregnancy.

That’s in the past.  Moving on, because that’s what we now must do, you are not morally obliged to seek a reversal of the ligation.  Given that this is now the condition you are living in, you may in good conscience have relations.

Again, I note that the second priest you mentioned, when you confessed this, “said nothing about it”.   Again, that priest also left you hanging in midair.

Friend, be at ease about this.   Life is messy and the situation of the Church in the last few decades has been crazy.  It is greatly to your credit that you wondered and worried about these questions enough to consult.  I’m just sorry that you had to be in a conflict of conscience for any length of time because you didn’t get a straight answer from the priests you asked.  You might say a prayer for them asking God, if they are alive, to give them some backbone and clarity of thought. And if they are dead, mercy.

I wouldn’t mind a prayer for myself.

The moderation queue is ON and I probably won’t let comments go unless they are from priests or at least highly useful.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father, you get a decade of the Rosary everyday at the gym during my work outs. When doing two minute planks between lifting sets, nothing makes the pain go away like dwelling on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary!

  2. mhumpher says:

    Dear Father Z, I hope that you can help me understand this. I have asked apologists and bioethicists about this issue and none has given me an answer that makes sense to me.
    First, it is my understanding that the Church does not require the reversal of intentional sterilization for the reception of absolution. Further, it is my understanding that She has not gone beyond that and approved conjugal intercourse after intentional sterilization under any conditions, including the reception of the Sacrament of Penance. If the Church has authoritatively taught this, could you please show me because it would be my conscience to ease, particularly in the face of so many saying “the Church teaches X” without being able to provide evidence for such.
    Second, assuming the first has not been explicitly taught, by what principal is conjugal intercourse licit after intentional sterilization? Under the cases of unintentional sterilization, either forced or natural, it seems this is licit because the sterilization was never willed and the Church has taught that conjugal intercourse is licit in these cases. However, in the case of intentional sterilization, one has perverted one’s faculty perpetually and willed it to be so. One’s body is now a sign and witness of that choice (thinking here of St. JPII). Even if one repents and receives absolution, when one engage in intercourse in such a state one objectively wills an intentionally sterilized sexual act. One may regret the sterilization and rightly so, but to will the act remains to will an intentionally sterilized sexual act which is intrinsically evil.
    Therefore, it is unclear (to me) how one is not morally obliged to continence and why one can just “move on” as if one were not intentionally sterilized. I’m inclined to think of analogous scenarios of other evils that one could just “move on” from, but I hope you can provide the teaching or principle that will help me understand how one can morally simply move on and avoid those scenarios.
    Thank you.

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