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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Canon Law
Tag Archives: Canon Law

Celibate Marriage: Validity and Consummation

When thinking about celibate marriages it is essential to differentiate between a valid marriage and a consummated marriage. All real consummated marriages are by definition valid, but not all valid marriages are consummated. In fact, every valid marriage is for a time valid and not consummated.

Of course there are many celibate marriages which are consummated since one only needs to engage in conjugal intercourse once in order to consummate a marriage. In the same way that some priests are celibate but not virgins, so a couple could engage in conjugal relations prior to choosing celibacy. This is the case with many Saint couples, and we know it because they had children prior to renouncing conjugal relations.

But what about those who choose a pure Josephite marriage? What about virgins who marry with the intent of never consummating the marriage? The status of their valid marriages is clear under canon law.

When is a couple really married? When they give consent during the wedding: “The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons quali-fied by law, makes marriage.” When vows are exchanged a couple is married. They are not in some state of limbo prior to consumation, they really are married.

What are the fancy Latin names for unconsummated and consummated marriages? “A valid marriage between the baptized is called ratum tantum if it has not been consummated; it is called ratum et consummatum if the spouses have performed between themselves in a human fashion a conjugal act which is suitable in itself for the procreation of offspring, to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.”

Is consummation assumed by the Church? “After a marriage has been celebrated, if the spouses have lived together consummation is presumed until the contrary is proven.”

Can we just assume that those crazy enough to not consummate their marriages must not have been validly married in the first place? “Marriage possesses the favor of law; therefore, in a case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.”

But what about if a marriage is not consummated and one wishes to marry someone else? “A person bound by the bond of a prior marriage, even if it was not consummated, invalidly attempts marriage.”

But what about the fact that the Pope can dissolve unconsummated marriages, even if he does not do so? The whole point is that dissolution is necessary to free spouses from marriage because the marriage is valid, even though not consummated. If that were not the case then they could simply get a decree of nullity.

But I have never met someone in a celibate marriage. It can’t be real! Thankfully, experiencing something personally or knowing someone who has is not necessary for something to be real.

But this doesn’t make sense. Have you considered that perhaps you should do more reading about Catholic marriage?

Why would anyone do this? Because they were called to.

But what would the point be in marriage without sex or children? Celibate marriage does not necessarily without children. The couple may have children prior to taking vows of celibacy, or they may adopt. And the “point” is the same as it always should be with vows of celibacy: to follow God in the way that one is called. Ask yourself what point there is, besides carnal desire, in any marriage where the couple is either infertile or avoiding children. And you will have something of your answer.

Maybe there was a point in celibate marriage back in the early days of Christianity, or maybe the Middle Ages but it should not be allowed now! Take it up with your local Ordinary.

So, what was your point with all of this? Simply that consummation is not necessary for validity, and that if married couples mutually choose to never engage in conjugal relations they violate nothing in Church law.

What other protestations do you think I should add to my list?

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