Sunday, June 14, 2009

Commencement Keynotes

Many good friends have or are going to graduate this year. This is a half-hearted way to say congradulations to all of you - a snippet from Robertson Davies short story: "What Will the Age of Aquarius Bring?"

“The usually thing – the statistically normal thing – is for the speaker to tell the graduation class that they are going out into a world torn by dissent, racked by problems of unprecedented knottiness, and difficulty, and headed for the abyss of destruction unless the graduating class shoulders its burden and does something splendid to put everything right. The speaker generally admits that he is at the end of his tether: he is old, and broken on the wheel of Fate; his decrepitude and his wounds have been received in this great battle with the world’s problems. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is to be expected of him in the future. From his failing hands he throws the torch; he plants the task of setting the world right square on the graduating class. He says that he does it with confidence. But he is usually so gloom that one wonders how much his confidence is worth. Sometimes one gets the impression that immediately after Convocation he is going to home to die.”


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Catholic Marriage & Antecedent and Permanent Impotence

My new roommate, Erin, and I were discussing the issue de jour: homosexual marriage. During the conversation, I mentioned how consummation was an imperative for the Sacrament of Marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. Meaning, for a marriage to be valid, the couple must have sex.

She then theologically stumped me: “What if you couldn’t have sex? What if you were a quadriplegic?”

Initially, I thought the Catholic Church would insist on consummation, and hence those unable to have sex would not be able to partake in a Catholic marriage. However, I was far from sure.

The next day, I was talking to my good friend Andy who suggested that maybe the consummation was an ethical suggestion, but not an absolute imperative; something akin to the ethical equation: ought equals must.

A little research, however, provided me with Roman Catholic Canon 1084 §1. It states that “antecedent and permanent impotence” is a diriment impediment. Simply put: if your junk don’t work, you can’t tie the knot. This fascinating little ordinance is found in Book IV, Part I, Title VII, Chapter III of the Roman Catholic Canon.

Of course, this is classical Catholic doctrine. Catholic marriage requires consummation. So, if one cannot commence the marriage through consummation, then the marriage is invalid. The Church is at least consistent.

There is, however, a question of formally granted dispensation. For instance, dispensation is now granted regularly for ‘mixed-marriages’ – meaning marriages between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian or Jew (thank you, Vatican II).

I suspect that most bishops would grant special dispensation to those who may have antecedent and permanent impotence, but I myself am confused by what the rationale might be. Canon 90, found in (Book I, Tit. IV, Chp. V) states, “One is not to be dispensed from an ecclesiastical law without a just and reasonable cause…” Of course, it is not clear what a just and reasonable cause may constitute, though.

However, if I were a bishop – and hell, I’m not even really Catholic – the decision would be easy. If I found two people who loved each other and wanted to marry – despite the sobering matrimonial-actuary tables and the reality of a spouse with antecedent and permanent impotence – I wouldn’t just grant dispensation, I would offer blessings.

Addendum: My friend Ramil, made an excellent point. How would a 'good' Catholic even known they had antecedent impotence. Premaritial sex by yourself or with a partner is off limits. Plausibly a good - if not a perhaps somewhat naive - Catholic could never have an erection before marriage and just assume that all the plumbing begins to work when you marry... Anyways, thanks Ramil for the thought.