Question: If one spouse indicates an unwillingness to have any more children, would the other spouse be free to refuse all sexual intimacy?
— Name Withheld, Wichita, Kansas
Answer: You raise and link two issues that must first be treated separately. In the second matter, refusing all marital intimacy, except for a grave cause, is a violation of the rights of one’s spouse. When a man and a woman marry, they exchange, among other goods, what Canon Law calls jus in corporis, a right to expect a reasonable recourse to sexual intimacy.
St. Paul writes, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and only for a time…” (1 Cor 7:3-5).
So, other things being equal, the ongoing refusal of marital intimacy is an injustice to one’s spouse. There are, of course certain times when a spouse may reasonably and temporarily withhold requests for intimacy (e.g. health, significant fatigue or inconvenience, etc). The right to intimacy refers to a reasonable expectation of intimacy, not an absolute one.
In the second issue you raise, there is a spouse who is no longer open to the good of children. In itself this is problematic. One may seek to delay the birth of another child, but this must be for a serious reason (e.g. serious health or financial issues) and not involve contraceptive acts, but rather abstinence during fertile periods.
In the example you cite, presuming the reasons to avoid pregnancy are serious, it would be wrong for one spouse to fully withhold marital intimacy, for the reasons stated, even if he or she is open to another child. A husband or wife cannot however be required by their spouse to use illicit forms of contraception and they should not directly cooperate in such action.
But even this does not mean that they may, or must, refuse all sexual intimacy. In circumstances where one spouse makes sinful use of contraceptive measures, the other spouse is not required to refuse intimacy and do not incur sin as long as they state clearly their objection to the practice and does not cooperate in any direct way. For example, a husband may not be able to stop his wife taking a pill that suppresses ovulation, but as long as he does not cooperate with it and states his concerns, he does not incur sin by having recourse to the marital act.
Question: Some people refer to baptism as “christening.” Is term correct or allowed?
— P. Smith, via email
Answer: The word “christen” is an inaccurate term for baptism. In the literal sense, to be “christened” is to be anointed with oil. But the sign in baptism is the washing with water. Even though there are anointings in the baptismal rite, they are not the essential sign. So “baptism,” (rooted in the Greek term for washing) is the correct term for this sacrament.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org