May I Attend the Wedding?

Re the May/June 2012 issue of The Catholic Answer, there is an article titled “May I Attend the Wedding?” Very helpful. May I request that your next piece pick up on the statement near the end that “marriage is about children, and two persons of the same sex cannot procreate children, so marriage is not possible” — that is, the cases of Catholic couples who are infertile and unable to “make” children but can and do adopt, please elaborate on how they are married (according to your above statement) despite the lack of procreation.

Miranda, via e-mail 

The editor replies: Thank you for your letter. You raise an important point, and Father Francis Hoffman gave a reply to this issue in the December 2012 issue of TCA: 

“I did not intend to give the impression that marriage is ‘solely about children.’ Nevertheless, the ability to have sexual intercourse (which is the cause of children) is an essential element of marriage. The Church states that marriage ‘is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1601). So, there are two ends of marriage: the good of the spouses and children.

“Infertility is not an impediment to marriage, but ‘antecedent and perpetual impotence to have sexual intercourse, whether on the part of the man or on that of the woman’ is an impediment (see Code of Canon Law, Canon 1084). Later that same canon states, ‘Sterility neither forbids nor invalidates a marriage.’ So, in summary, the inability to have sexual intercourse is an impediment, but sterility is not. For that reason, an infertile person — by reason of age or other factor — may validly marry. For that reason also, two men cannot marry and two women cannot marry, because they cannot have sexual intercourse. Whatever they attempt to do is entirely different. The Catechism later points out: ‘Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice’ (No. 1654).” 

Great Schism

I always look forward to receiving my copy of The Catholic Answer. However, sometimes I find that your answers are not complete and may mislead and misinform your readers. In the September/October 2012 issue you answered a question about the Orthodox Church (“Orthodox Sacraments?”) and described the Great Schism of 1054. While you addressed the issue of the validity of sacraments in the Orthodox Church, you end your explanation by saying that the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church are still in schism. Although this is technically true, the questioner asks if the apostolic succession is broken because of the excommunication? You neglect to reply that on Jan. 5, 1964, Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI met in Jerusalem and re-established a dialogue between the two churches. The following year, 1965, both leaders lifted the mutual excommunications. Thus, while we are still not united, but in schism, the Orthodox Church is no longer excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Marie A. Kopf, Stoneham, Mass. 

Father Francis Hoffman responds: You are correct with your citation of the meeting of Pope Paul VI and Partiarch Athenagoras I on Jan. 5, 1964, resulting in the Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of His Holiness Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I on Dec. 7, 1965, which lifted the mutual personal excommunications. Nevertheless, as long as the Orthodox churches are not united to the Roman pontiff, they do remain in schism, even though — as I pointed out in my answer — the seven sacraments are still valid because the apostolic succession was not broken.

Sometimes I do not descend into canonical technicalities in my answers, and I can understand why you think they are not complete. But since TCA is not a scholarly journal, the answers are meant to capture the essence of the situation, provide some pastoral guidance and furnish our readers with a practical Catholic understanding of the matter.

To have a more complete understanding of the situation between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches would be beyond the scope of this magazine. Suffice it to say, Canon 1364 (in the 1983 code) establishes that schismatics incur a latae sententiae excommunication from the Church. If the Orthodox are in schism, then they are ipso facto excommunicated. If they are not in schism, they are not excommunicated. The Joint Declaration of 1965 is indeed a welcome milestone. For full unity between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches, the Orthodox churches will have to recognize the supremacy of the Roman pontiff and seek his approval for episcopal consecrations going forward. So, with God’s grace, everything can change in an instant. We pray for that grace. TCA