Married Couples Who Intentionally Chose Sterilization For Contraceptive Purposes And Lasting Repentance
period: let one spouse be sterilized and that spouse (or both) confess the sin; then the couple can engage in intercourse whenever they please without worrying about pregnancy or feeling guilty about contraception. The trouble with this supposed solution is that a sin is not simply a technical violation which can be repaired by going to confession. The choice of sterilization, like any sin, is a self-determination, an existential self-mutilation more profound than the physical self-mutilation of sterilization; and this self- determination lasts until the person repents. Consequently, unless those who have tried to solve their problems by means of sterilization are truly contrite—“I wish I had not done that, and if I had it to do over, I would never make that choice”—confession is fruitless for them.3
Kippley frames the problem in this manner:
How can a person be sorry for the sin whose fruits he enjoys? Imagine the man who thinks, “I enjoy having sex whenever I feel like it without having to be concerned about possible preg- nancy. I’m glad I had the vasectomy (or my wife had a tubal ligation ).” . . . How can such spouses be sorry for their sins of sterilization? How can such spouses not be committing, at least objectively, the sin of contraceptive sterilized intercourse? How can a previous confession of the sin of sterilization forgive the current sin of contraceptive intercourse?4
Repentance is possible after the sin of directly-intended sterilization. God’s infinite strength does change hearts and dispose persons to the Truth who once were blind to the Transcendent. Deliberate sterilization is surely a “forgivable” sin. Those who have committed it need not be banned from Paradise and lost forever. “Like those who repent any other sin, they can be absolved and spiritually healed, so that they can live in grace again.”5
What Is Required For Real Amendment
Both Grisez and Kippley, in harmony with Catholic doctrine detailing the Lord’s tender forgiveness and the corresponding genuine amendment of life after sin to which He summons His beloved children, concur that the “resolution of the sterilization dilemma” calls for real repentance and change. One must—with God’s overwhelming grace—eradicate any perduring contraceptive intent. “The person who regrets having been sterilized must develop a true sorrow for a) the initial sin of sterilization and b) subsequent sins of sterilized intercourse.”6
And sorrow for any sin necessitates genuine action and internal transformation, namely that one “rights the wrong” in part by avoiding that sin in the future and “the near occasion” that leads to that sin. Listed below are three “behaviors,” which although not definitively taught by the Magisterium as requirements are recommended by theologians who teach in harmony with the Magisterium, that evidence an abiding sorrow for the sin of direct sterilization and the connected attempt to correct the evil that was caused.
1. Complete abstinence until the wife is past menopause. Some quarters would dismiss this option without delay, claiming that it is unworkable and would have disastrous implications for the married couple. Although not strictly obligatory (given what follows), it does remain a possibility.
2. A surgical reversal of the sterilization. It may appear at first glance that a surgical reversal of vasectomy and tubal ligation, which today is often an “out-patient” procedure and increasingly less expensive, is in fact the only option for the married couple who were intentionally sterilized so as to prevent conception and now wish to be “made just” in God’s sight. “They purposely sterilized themselves, let them now fix precisely what they have done,” is one way of putting it.
Grisez inquires whether directly sterilized married couples either ought to “abstain entirely from marital intercourse or try to have the sterilization reversed?”7 While Church teaching does not deal explicitly with this question, general principles point to a negative answer, at least for most cases . . . . there usually are good reasons not to try to have the operation reversed: doing so involves costs and other burdens, the attempt often fails to restore fertility . . . .8
Kippley offers this analysis:
If reversal surgery were as simple and inexpensive as vasectomies and tubal ligations, then it would be morally required for all as part of their repentance. This is the common teaching of respected moral theologians. However, it is also a principle of moral theology that extraordinary burdens are not normally required as part of repentance. For example, many poor people have been seduced by public health workers into being sterilized—sometimes for no cost and sometimes even paid to be sterilized. For such couples, the cost of reversal surgery would be a very severe burden ...
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