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Selections from ARCC LIGHT
the ARCC Newsletter 
edited by James E. Biechler, Ph.D.

A Question of Rights
Marriage Without Children?

By James E. Biechler

"In your column of August, 1993 you wrote that 'two people can marry mutually agreeing not to have children.' If this is the position of ARCC your organization is really part of the radical left fringe. This is directly opposed to Catholic teaching. How can you justify this statement?"
--C. A. B., Albuquerque, NM 

You should be fair and quote the statement accurately. The first part of the statement made it clear that "the right to procreation may not be excluded." Here we are distinguishing between the mutual exchange of the right to marital intercourse and the mutual agreement by the parties that neither will choose to exercise that right in such a way as to conceive a child. There are hundreds of completely honorable and unselfish reasons why a couple might wish not to have children. There are women whose very lives might be endangered by a pregnancy. Are they to be forbidden to marry? It would not be immoral, nor would it invalidate a marriage, for a couple mutually to agree never even to have sexual intercourse. The right to such intercourse must be exchanged, i.e., at the time of the marriage each party must understand and agree that, although we do not now intend ever to have children, should one of us later change our mind about it, the other could not refuse. 

As long as you have raised the contraception question, you may be interested in the story of an Ohio couple who were excited by the birth of an 8-pound, 5-ounce baby boy, born to them after the woman had a tubal ligation, and after the father had a vasectomy. The report, which I read in The Milwaukee Journal, October 13, 1993, p. A2, stated that the father had a vasectomy after the difficult premature birth of their third child but the couple had another child the next year. The wife's tubal ligation followed that but she nevertheless conceived again. The experience of this couple (and I imagine similar experiences are on record) suggests that neither tubal ligation nor vasectomy can with certainty be judged "sterilization" which is defined as the act by which an animal is deprived of the power of reproducing. Hysterectomy and castration would be sterilization, but vasectomy and tubal ligation, as this story indicates, do not inevitably render a person sterile. In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI taught that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life." It is obvious from the experience of the Ohio couple, that while vasectomy and tubal ligation may make the transmission of life more difficult neither procedure, nor even both together, necessarily renders a marriage act closed to the transmission of life. 

In its position on family planning and birth control, the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church is not really on "the radical left fringe." If it is, well over half the Catholic couples in America are there. Alongside them are a sizeable number of respected Catholic moral theologians. They were preceded there by a majority of the members of the papal commission which recommended a change in the church's traditional approach to birth control. ARCC's position is more middle-of-the-road than leftist. Perhaps we should deal with the question of why people like you are so quick to question those who are striving for the recognition of their rights as Catholics, rights given by the gospel, by the Code of Canon Law, by the Second Vatican Council, and by other official pronouncements of popes and bishops. 


Dr. Biechler, an emeritus professor of religion, is a member of ARCC's board of directors. He also holds a licentiate in canon law and is a longtime member of the Canon Law Society of America. 

E-mail Comments to Dr. Biechler

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Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 18 July 1999
Last updated 18 July 1999
Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer
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