I’ve been working on a post where I want to discuss a specific call recorded and played during a specific segment of Catholic Answers Live – a segment entitled “Why Do You Reject Catholic Morality?” This answer horrified me enough that I thought it was worthy of more than just a mention, so I transcribed it for my readers, who can listen to the original show here. This call starts around the 13:45 mark and lasts until about 25:00.
If you’d rather have the tl;dr version, it’s this: if you have a disability that makes you unable to have penis-in-vagina intercourse, that’s tough luck. But no other form of sexual activity counts, it’s all a sinful misuse of human sexuality, and you shouldn’t be allowed to marry.
Catholics Apologetics on Marriage, Sex, and Disability
Transcribed from Catholic Answers Live episode of July 28, 2014 – “Why Do You Reject Catholic Morality” (hour 1), accessed via iTunes podcast. Transcribed by Sara Lin Wilde on August 18, 2014.
Context: Earlier in the program, the host explained that this show is for people who object to any aspect of Catholi moral teaching to call in and express their views, and receive an explanation from Catholic Answers apologist Trent Horn. I have edited my transcription to remove crosstalk and extraneous false starts or filler language (e.g. “umm” , “like”, “y’know”) to enhance clarity in the discussion.
Host: Let’s head now to another anonymous caller. Not sure where you’re listening, but Anonymous, thanks for hanging on and welcome to Catholic Answers Live.
Anonymous: Oh, hi! Trent, before I give you my serious objection I want to tell you how much I admire you personally and respect your intelligence and logic.
Trent Horn: Thank you.
A: Okay, now, what I’m about to tell you is for me so serious a complaint that I have already contacted an Orthodox priest in terms of changing to becoming Greek Orthodox. Twice I have heard on Catholic Answers, and I followed it up by calling the apologist line, two times men in wheelchairs who were either paraplegic or quadriplegic – I don’t remember – called in and said, ‘Can I get married?’ And they told them no, because you can’t perform the sexual act. Now I can’t believe that God in heaven, with a man – I don’t know if these men had served, it doesn’t matter whether they’ve served in the army or not, but it is hard enough being a disabled person and finding someone to love you, and then saying ‘no, you can’t get married’. And then I called to talk about this, because I am a senior disabled woman and I won’t go into my physiology and anatomy in many details, but I can’t perform the sexual act. But does that mean I can’t get married? That – to me, this was the line. Everything else I agree with, all the other teachings, but this one seems so cruel. Because it’s very hard, being disabled, even getting friends, especially if you’re in a wheelchair or a walker, and then if you find someone who wants to marry you, you can’t?
TH: Okay, well, I think I see your objection. It kind of seems to me, your objection is: why is sex necessary to marriage? I mean, why can’t people just be married and happy and in love and care for each other? And Anonymous, I think the root difference that occurs here would be over the question of what marriage is for. Why do we have marriage? Why does the Church marry people? Anonymous, what would your answer to that question be? What is marriage for?
A: I know where you’re going because I’ve listened to all the shows. So does that mean that me, at sixty-seven, who can’t have a child anyway, can’t get married? And there’s other ways, there’s other things people can do to feel physically intimate besides the sexual act.
H: Let’s let Trent answer the question here, because I think he’s on the right path. Let’s see what he has to say.
A: What is marriage for? Marriage is to make legitimate the union between one man and one woman who want to spend the rest of their lives together.
TH: Okay. Well, what do you mean by the union between the two of them?
A: I don’t believe I said ‘union’. To make legitimate the relationship of two people, a man and a woman – I’m very on board with ‘a man and a woman’, and I have comments too about the harm of gay marriage, which I could add later, that people haven’t brought up, which I would like to actually, that no one brings up, when that little boy [from a previous call] says “what harm can it do?” But if two people are in love and want to have a monogamous relationship and live together, it makes it legal that they can do that.
TH: Okay, so when you say by ‘monogamous’, you mean that they’re a man and a woman and they live together, and they don’t have sexual relations with anyone but each other.
A: Right. But if you can’t have sexual relationships – well, you could have sex, it just doesn’t have to be what we would say nicely, ‘the marital act’.
TH: Yes. Anonymous, I appreciate your discretion in trying to keep the show as viewer-friendly as we can. But I mean, inevitably, we’re going to have to talk about some adult topics as we get into what marriage is for and what happens with impotence. Let me first, before I continue with your question a little more, put forward what the Church teaches on this issue, and then we can still talk back and forth about this. What the Church teaches, and what you just said about calling sex ‘the marital act’, I think is very important for people to understand. Because what the Church teaches is that marriage, what it exists for, is to make men and women one flesh. Marriage is how we sanctify and solemnize when men and women engage in intercourse, and the two of them, their parts come together – their whole bodies, I should say – to become one ordered towards the good of procreation. That good isn’t always achieved, but that’s still what it’s ordered towards. And what the Church teaches in its Canon Law, in Canon 1084, it says that “antecedent and perpetual impotence” to intercourse can be an impediment to marriage. So what that means is, it has to be something that’s permanent. So for those who are listening, it’s not always the case that someone who is in a wheelchair, someone who’s a paraplegic or a quadriplegic, would be impotent. In some cases, through the use of external devices, they can assist the union between men and women to allow sex to be possible, and in that case we’re assisting the act instead of replacing it. Now, Anonymous, I guess I’ll go back to your question: what goods in a relationship – let’s say you have an elderly brother and sister, you know. They only have each other in the world, they live together, they only care for each other, they’re all they’ve got. They don’t have sexual relations with each other but they care for each other. Should they be allowed to marry one another, to make life easier in how they share everything?
A: No, because they’re not in a romantic, sexual relationship. You can be in a romantic sexual relationship and have romantic love and do other intimate things without the sexual act. There are plenty of men I know, due to medication, due to smoking, that cannot.
TH: I see what you’re saying. But I think that the problem there is that what the Church teaches, then, about our sexual powers is that it would be wrong to use them, even for the sake of generating pleasure between two people, without leading to that complete end which would be that life-giving aspect of love or intercourse. That’s not what they were made for. Which kind of goes back to the other end of the age spectrum, which is why we tell teenagers that it’s wrong for them to engage in heavy petting and unchaste behaviour when they’re not planning to have intercourse – one, because they’re not married, but two, because that’s not what the sexual powers are for. It seems to me that you think that it’s not so much what the Church teaches about marriage, it’s even more so what our sexual abilities are for. You think there’s nothing wrong with using them just to show love and affection for another person and to share in that activity.
A: So then you should be punished for life and not be able to get married? Is that what the Church teaches? If due to a permanent physical disability, then you cannot get married.
TH: Well, I think the difference that we’re having here, A, is once again over what marriage is for, but also over what our sexual abilities are for. And I’m going to agree with you: the situation that you’re describing, where if you are unable to have intercourse . . . I couldn’t even imagine it. Just being in a position with my wife . . .
A: But wait. There’s plenty of men who are older who can’t.
TH: Right. And that may be something that will come to myself and my wife. I mean, we’ve already consummated our marriage.
A: But there’s single men who might want to get married. Or who are widowers.
TH: Well, the Church doesn’t, Anonymous, prohibit, for example, an older person who can’t engage in sexual relations to live with another person – man or woman – and share a life together in a home that is essentially almost like a married life without sexual relations. It doesn’t say that that’s wrong. Why would you need to add marriage on top of that when you’re allowed to live together in that kind of a relationship?
A: There’s a difference between living together as friends and living together in a romantic sexual relationship.
TH: Well, why would marriage be needed?
A: So if you’re living together as a man and a woman, and you’re doing other sexual acts other than the marital act . . . I would like God’s blessing! You’re telling me I can live with someone, do other things other than the marital act, and that’s okay.
TH: That’s not what I said. I simply said that being able to live together with someone and have the goods of communal living and sharing life and friendship and mutual goals and things that are enjoyed between two people, without the sexual activity. I think, Anonymous, the difference – and I think we’re running out of time here, we’re going to have to probably come to a close as we go to our hard break – the difference is, it’s not necessarily your view of what marriage is, but it’s your view about what sex is for. Whether the sexual powers should culminate in an act of life-giving love, and can’t be use for another purpose, or if they can just be used to share feelings with other people. I would hope that you don’t leave the Church hastily, but a good book you might enjoy reading would be The Good News about Sex and Marriage by Christopher West. I think he has some good answers on some of these tough questions. But even more so than what marriage is, we have to go back to the main issue of what our sexual abilities are for and what God created them for.
H: Alright, Anonymous, thank you for your call and thank you, Trent, for that wonderful answer. More to come on “Why Do You Reject Catholic Morality?” Call in to Catholic Answers Live – more coming up.