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Yes, Robbie, the bishop in that case was right

November 18, 2009

In the December 2009 issue of the always terrific First Things, Dr. Robert George, responding (graciously and, I think, decisively) to several critics of his article “What marriage is, and what it isn’t” (August-September 2009), writes: “When I lived in England in the 1980s, the Catholic Church came in for rather rough criticism by the British newspapers when a diocese declined to solemnize the marriage of two Catholics who (as the result of the paraplegia of one of the spouses) intended to live in an unconsummated marriage. A canon lawyer would have to tell us whether the bishop responsible for the decision ruled correctly.”

Okay, well, I’m a canon lawyer, and I say, it’s more than likely the bishop ruled correctly in that case.

To use venerable contract-language, marriage can be described as a complex of reciprocal rights and duties (yes, I know marriage is much more than that, but marriage is at least that, or it isn’t marriage), and among those rights and duties figures the performance of acts per se suitable for the generation of children. Thus, if one cannot render and/or receive such acts, one cannot enter a contract that calls for, among other things, just such ability. See generally 1983 CIC 1055, 1061, and 1084. The bishop in this case, guardian of the sacraments in his diocese (c. 392.2), apparently acted to prevent an attempted exchange of consent by a party incapable of fulfilling his (or her) concomitant duty. It’s that simple.

Folks wishing to discuss the marriage of Mary and Joseph, or marriages of the sterile, or dissolution of consummated or non-consummated marriages, or the practice of periodic abstinence, should consult the approved authors.

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