Well, it's finished. Or as finished as it's going to get.
Here's the three sentence summary of a 5000 word paper.
Direct (contraceptive) sterilization is always intrinsically evil. Indirect (therapeutic) sterilization is morally permissible in accordance with the principles of totality and double effect when the immediate purpose and direct intent is to remove pathological reproductive organs or to inhibit the natural functioning of such organs when such functioning (for example, abnormal hormonal production) aggravates a pathological condition within the person. The Church condemns direct sterilization for the same reasons that she condemns all other forms of contraception, in addition to the fact that is a form of self-mutilation.
As a side-note, one of the interesting issues that came up in my research was: What is the moral response for a couple that has been sterilized but is repentent and seeks reconciliation? Obviously, the most important thing is that by the mercy and grace of God they are forgiven and can return to full communion with the Church. Secondly, if at all possible (if they have the means, the surgery does not pose a great risk, etc...) I think it would be advisable for them to pursue a reversal of the sterilization, but we need to keep in mind that reversals are only sucessful 50 - 60% of the time. The question is though, if they could
pursue a reversal, would they have a moral obligation to do so? Doing so would obviously be ideal because it would restore the procreative component to the marital embrace*, yet would they have an obligation? This depends on which Catholic sexual ethics text you're reading.
Some contemporary authors on the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, such as Dr. Janet Smith and John Kippley argue that because they continue live with the effects of sterilization some sort of periodic abstinence needs to be followed in order to prevent them from assuming a mindset that takes advantage of their sterility. I can appreciate what Smith and Kippley are saying, but at the same time, I don't know if this would always be an appropriate response. I think it would depend on the couple. I can imagine that some couples who are wanting to live in accordance with the teachings of the Church but have to live with the reality of the effects of their past sin of procurring a sterilization bear a great cross already.
As I was thinking about it, trying to imagine how they'd feel, I felt great compassion rather than condemnation. Imagine coming to a point of realizing the beauty and depth of the Catholic teachings on marriage and family life and then realizing that because of a decision you made in the past you will never be able to live this message out in its fullness. Imagine reading Humanae Vitae
for the first time and realizing what you jepordized in pursuing a sterilization.
Kippley argues that the practice of periodic abstinence is appropriate for a couple that has been sterilized because "even though they may have exprienced conversion of heart and sought sacramental absolution, they are still able to enjoy having sex...without having to be concerned about possible pregnancy." I can kind of see his point, but I think it isn't necessarily valid. It also applies to people who have to bear the cross of indirect sterilization or who are biologically infertile. By no fault of their own they too are "able to enjoy having sex...without having to be concerned about possible pregnancy." Would Kippley therefore argue that anyone who is not fertile should practice periodic abstinence? Kippley questions how such spouses can not be committing, at least objectively, the sin of contraceptive intercourse? He proposes that the continuing effects of the sin can be changed by having a change of heart which is reflected in a change of behaviour such as periodic or even total abstinence.
Let us remember that the Church doesn't teach that every time the couple enters into the marital embrace conception must occur, but rather that they must be open to human life. I think that a couple who is grieving the fact that they will never be able to have children is certainly open to life.
Also, we don't want to undermine the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If a person who has been sterilized has a conversion of heart and makes a sacramental confession, their sin is forgiven. We should no longer judge them for the act. Christ has forgiven them and they are restored to full union with the Church. There's a big difference between a person who confesses to using oral contraceptives and then continues that practice and a person who confesses sterilization; sterilization is a permanent mutilation of their bodies that they may not be able to change.
Some theologians I read went so far as to such total abstinence. Now this recommendation just seemed absurd since, assuming the couple was married, this would be yet another evil since it would be removing the marital embrace completely from the marriage. We need to also remember that the act can be fruitful and unitive without conception occurring. In fact, most of the time, conception doesn't occur, whether a couple is sterilized or not.
All this being said, I do see some advantages to the position which suggests the periodic practice of abstinence simply in light of the benefits of practicing natural family planning. Although periodic abstinence would really be an indefinite (and unecessary) penance for the couple, penance is a good thing and may bring about spiritual fruitfulness in the marriage. So I'm not saying that this is a bad suggestion. The question is whether it would be required. Which it isn't as of now - there is no formal recommendation on this matter. It's just a suggestion being made by some of the leading authors and theologians on the issue.
Ultimately, in recognizing the serious emotional and spiritual implications of living in a sterilized marriage I think the reaction of the Catholic faithful should be one of consolation rather than condemnation towards such couples. The only essential response for Catholics who have had sterilizations is to have true and lasting repentance (obviously through the Sacrament of Reconciliation). While there may be benefit to periodic abstinence, I think this response needs to be considered carefully by each couple. Above all else, let us not forget the mercy and grace of our Lord.
Keep in mind that these are just my thoughts and reflections and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Church...well, I actually wasn't able to find any clear directives from the Church on the specific situation of those who have been sterilized who seek reconciliation with Christ and His Church.
What are your thoughts on this issue? What do you think the moral response for couples in this situation should be?
*For those who don't know 'marital embrace' = sexual intercourse in marriage.