Another Vasectomy Question

From a commenter to my post, Vasectomy and the Catholic Church: Search Engine Q&A:

My wife has had repeated miscarriages since she has gotten older (seven so far). We have been abstaining to avoid another miscarriage. I believe it would be acceptable in God’s eyes for one of us to have a procedure that would make it impossible for her to become pregnant, but she does not. What does The Church say?

My response:

Dear ___________:

I received your question concerning the situation with your wife having had a number of miscarriages. As someone who has experienced (as a husband and father) two miscarriages myself, I am very sorry that you and your wife have had to go through this. Depending on how far along into a pregnancy the miscarriage occurs, it can be very traumatic and painful.

I’d suggest that you first go to a priest who you know and trust and talk to him about this situation. Since you earnestly asked the question, I assume you want to find answers that are authentic reflections of what the Church actually teaches. On occasion priests can be found who will put a “rubber stamp” on things that are pretty questionable. Such priests actually make things worse. If you don’t have a “go-to” priest, maybe begin by asking a trusted friend who he or she would see about this concern.

Please understand that *I* am not an authority on official Church teaching. But I can tell you that my *understanding* is that the Church’s view on “having a procedure that would make it impossible” for your wife to become pregnant would not be favorable.

This is because, first, there are other NON-PERMANENT things that you and your wife can do that don’t affect either your or your wife’s reproductive capacity. For example, many Catholic couples, for a variety of reasons, practice Natural Family Planning, which allows the couple to observe the wife’s cycle and determine which days she might be fertile or ovulating. The rest of the times during the cycle the couple need not abstain. There may also be other options that could be discussed further with a trustworthy priest.

There is also a second serious problem that would arise with a permanent procedure, which is that sexual union between spouses is intended by God to reflect the “unitive, procreative, and donative” elements of marriage. “Unitive” is essentially what Jesus talks about in the Gospel when he refers to the two becoming “one flesh”. “Donative” is the free giving of self to one’s spouse, which isn’t entirely possible once one intentionally interrupts the part of oneself that leads to procreation. “Procreative” is the part that brings about children.

When we talk about these elements, we can’t give what we don’t possess, and sometimes that’s not our fault. If a person is born sterile, it doesn’t mean they can’t marry. But we aren’t free intentionally remove our own “faculties” either. Doing so is essentially a rejection of a gift from God. We are, in the moment, returning the thing that God gave us for our own good and happiness and choosing something else that God did not intend.

“Unitive, procreative, and donative” aspects of sexual expression also help us understand *why* sex is reserved for marriage. It simply isn’t possible to do what God intends for us in the sexual act with a partner outside marriage. We might be “having sex”, but at least one (if not all) of the elements intended to present in the act are missing.

When we turn one or more of these elements “off” within marriage, we run the risk of harming the marriage itself.

Please know that I will be praying for you and your wife, and wish you a very blessed Easter.

We Missed World Vasectomy Day? Oh well, Maybe Next Year…..

Really, this is a thing, and this year it was the Second Annual World Vasectomy Day. And, you’ve got to love the embedded spin in the headline: “Thousands of men step up on World Vasectomy Day“, as though there’s anything remotely virtuous about getting oneself fixed. Secular culture says: “You want to be responsible and share your part of the birth control burden? Get fixed! Be a ‘hero’!”

Because non-alcoholic beer is just as good as real beer. And tofurkey is just as yummy as turkey. And EggBeaters, margarine, Bakon, Krab, cubic zirconia, pyrite, and that dumb Golden Retriever app on your phone are all the same as the real thing.

Oh, and says one guy who underwent the procedure, “There’s this whole stigma… It’s hard to put your finger on what it is…” I’m pretty sure I can help you out with that. It’s your conscience saying getting a vasectomy (even for nonsensical consequentialist reasons) is a stupid sinful thing to do.

Be a man.” And, “Be a man.

Vasectomy and the Catholic Church: Search Engine Q&A

This blog’s platform provides access to some basic statistics regarding traffic on One of the more interesting features (to the voyeur) is that you can see some of the search strings that people enter into search engines that bring them here.

It seems, based upon the frequency of searches related to the Church and vasectomies, that this is an issue for some folks. There are questions that my original post on the topic did not cover.

Vasectomy-catholicQuestion #1: “Can Catholics get vasectomies?” Answer: Well, “can” is a loaded word. I’m Catholic. If I go to a doctor for a vasectomy, I can do that in the sense that no one is going to prevent me from doing it.

But the Church is clear: faithful Catholics are bound to follow Church teaching. The intended outcome of vasectomies and tubal ligations is to render a person permanently infertile. It is an objective sin, and likely an actual mortal sin for anyone with a well-formed conscience. In the context of marriage, where sex between husband and wife is promoted as a positive good, vasectomy constitutes the removal of the life-giving capacity of sexual expression, which is an essential element of God’s plan for marriage, and sex.

Vasectomy-wifeQuestion #2: “Wife won’t be intimate unless I get vasectomy, but Catholic faith forbids it.” Answer: If you have this question, your conscience is sufficiently well-formed such that you already know you shouldn’t get a vasectomy. Without knowing a wife’s specific reasons for wanting a husband to get a vasectomy, we are confined to the most common issues that cause married couples to seek this option.

There’s the money. Kids are expensive. Sometimes, depending on your financial circumstances, they are oppressively expensive. Perhaps, even bankruptcy expensive. In any case, it may feel this way.

There’s the stress. Kids cause a lot of stress. You have to worry about them. You have to take care of them (I wonder how many wives want their husbands to get vasectomies in part because the husband doesn’t help very much with childrearing; if this is the case, you need to step it up, husband!).

There’s everything else. Contracepting sex is a hassle, and not fool-proof. After a couple kids, you need a new car. A three-bedroom house only holds so many. People keep asking if you’re done already. They eat all your food. They break your stuff. They cry and whine during mass. Diapers. And diapers. And diapers. Poop and pee. Crust all over surfaces. And snot and vomit.

All of these things are what the world says should matter, but they don’t matter to God. None of this is insurmountable when we place our trust in God. He works miracles, and He will do so here if you permit Him. 

Bottom line answer: Be a man. Educate yourself and take responsibility. A wife who wants a husband to get a vasetomy is essentially saying, “For whatever reason, I don’t trust God (or you) in this matter.” She either doesn’t realize (or doesn’t care about) what comes from intentionally removing the life-giving potential of marriage and how it will harm the relationship of husband and wife. She thinks life would be better without more of her offspring walking around. Ask God to help you be what she needs so she can feel safe to trust that His will be done.

Vasectomy-acceptedQuestion #3: “Can I still be accepted as a Catholic through RCIA if I had a vasectomy years ago?” Answer: Yes. Everyone sins. Whether or not we’ve made poor decisions in our past is not in itself something that prevents us from becoming Catholic. In choosing to follow Christ, we must repent of our past lives and resolve not to sin in the future, with Christ’s help. If you’ve already been baptized in another Christian denomination when you enter the Church, then you need to go to confession before being received and receiving communion for the first time. If you’ve never been baptized, then the fact that you had a vasectomy in the past is forgiven along with all of your other sins.

Vasectomy-confessQuestion #4: “If a vasectomy is confessed is it okay to have sex with wife?” Answer: Ask your confessor. The answer is likely yes, but I can’t say so absolutely, because you and your confessor would need to look at the circumstances of your particular situation.

If we’ve learned anything from Pope Francis, it’s that the Church should be about mercy, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the sacrament of mercy. The Church has the right, for our own good, to regulate the requirements for dispensing mercy, but it does not withhold mercy or make obtaining it highly impracticable or impossible.

For example, if you honestly and truly did not know that it is an objective sin to undergo a vasectomy, then in confessing it and receiving absolution, you would not automatically be bound to abstain from sex with your wife.

I have heard confessors assign as penance that a couple abstain from sex during what would have been the “fertile” days of the month, according to the wife’s cycle. This is something you learn to do as a matter of course in Natural Family Planning.

According to the circumstances, your confessor might assign a heavier penance. Perhaps it’s possible for you to attempt to reverse the vasectomy, if it is within your budget and not exceedingly risky to your life or health. A confessor might suggest this to you, but likely would not insist upon it as penance, unless there were a specific reason.

Just go to confession and do the penance, which will be much easier than living with a mortal sin on the soul. After all, a penance does not “make it all right”; only God does that, for us, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And look into NFP.

Vasectomy: Okay for Catholic Husbands?

[Note: Please also check out an update to this article, a Q&A]

A few summers ago, our family was invited to a backyard barbecue. We had just moved back to our hometown from Chicagoland, and used the social occasion as an opportunity to get reacquainted with some old friends from high school.

One couple — who my wife and I knew from high school — came with their young children, and we also recognized them as members of our Catholic parish.

You know how it often is with barbecues: the “guy group” congregates together — this time we stood around the backyard with our beers — while “the wives” were inside chatting in the living room. Not all the men at the barbecue were Catholic; there were a few nominals, and me, and some men from other Christian traditions.

As we were comparing notes (how many kids, how old, our occupations, sports, etc.), the father of this family announced — as sort of a non sequitur — that he recently underwent a vasectomy.

There were some highly uncomfortable pauses in the conversation that followed, although “vasectomy guy” seemed really enthused about the whole thing. I found his sharing this personal information to casual acquaintances sort of peculiar, and his apparent happiness over rendering himself sterile rather incredible.

I resisted the bait (“I just got fixed!” –> “Oh, were you broken?”) because I couldn’t imagine a snide comment from me helping anything. We all just stood there (I did my best not to wince) — ostensibly trying to come up with something (diplomatic) to say. 

vasectomymemeI felt sort of scandalized by the whole thing, but I remained silent because (a) the deed was already done, (b) my opinion wasn’t asked, and (c) this fellow already seemed aware that getting a vasectomy isn’t okay according to Church teachings (he as much as said he knew what the Church would say, and it did not matter to him). What could I add, besides judgment and belaboring an already uncomfortable topic not entirely appropriate for a barbecue where children were running around?

Whenever I see vasectomy guy’s family at church (mom and kids regularly attend, but apart from Easter or Christmas, he never attends), I try to say a prayer that next Sunday he might attend too, and I’m reminded of the encounter at the barbecue and the casualness with which he approached sex with his wife (he said some things), his attitudes toward fatherhood, and his lack of faithfulness to Church teachings. It’s not a pleasant reminder of the type of rebuilding that is necessary in Catholic families and culture if we are to avoid getting caught in the current of the new age.

The Church teaches that it is reasonable for married couples to try to regulate births; in fact, the Catechism says that it is one of the “aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.” (CCC 2299). However, a “legitimate intention” to regulate births does not “…justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).” (Id.).

The Church also warns that artificial contraception carries a number of unintended (but nonetheless actual) effects, including that a husband “…may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (Humanae vitae, Para. 17). In the context of tubal ligation or vasectomy, the nature of the artificial contraception is no longer transitory — you can’t simply stop taking a pill and have your normal fertility restored — which potentially amplifies the gravity of the situation.

Unlike artificial contraception, sterilization is a much more permanent and intentional action. It pushes the “not right now” of artificial contraception over the line into “not ever” or “not ever again”. What becomes of sex between husband and wife after deciding to undergo sterilization because of a preference to have no (or no additional) children?

The Church teaches that in marriage “the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion.” (CCC 2360). Sex between husband and wife “is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such.” (CCC 2361). It fosters “self-giving” and “…enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” (CCC 2362). Husband and wife “…accept what the Creator has intended for them.” (Id.). To take an action which closes off our natural fertility is to not accept, but rather reject the Creator’s intention.

Thus, the Church teaches that sex “…achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.” (CCC 2363). In other words, husband and wife are called to accept in one another who and what they are, and to accept (with gratitude!) the state of their fertility as an immense gift of God, and not a burden to be carried or laid down at some point.

Certain medical procedures (like hysterectomy or the removal of ovaries or testicles) have the effect of rendering one infertile, but so long as they are not undertaken to achieve infertility, they are not contrary to Church teaching, because the purpose of the treatment is to preserve health or life (both the means and ends of any medical procedure must not violate the moral law).

However, when couples decide to become infertile so that they no longer need worry about becoming pregnant, they replace something that “concerns the innermost being of the human person” and fosters “self-giving” with a purely physical action premised upon making one another “mere instruments for the satisfaction” of desire.

In the context of human relationships, marriage is special: in sacramental marriage, the love of husband and wife is intended to reflect the love of Christ for His bride the Church. Such love carries a natural capacity to transmit life while at the same time it involves offering the totality of self to the beloved. In sterilization we remove both of these aspects, neutering not just sex, but the love found in marriage itself.

So Catholic husbands, love your wives!