A paraplegic who was denied permission to marry in the Roman Catholic Church because he could not consummate the marriage can have a church wedding after all, because of a bishop's intercession.
Larry Bonvallet, 32, of suburban Elmwood Park, who is paralyzed from the waist down, and his fiancee, a nurse at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, Ill., now plan a May 15 wedding, he said.
His fiancee's pastor initially denied the couple a church wedding because of a canon law that says marriage must be consummated by sexual intercourse.
Bonvallet, who became paralyzed after a fall in 1977 and met his financee while recuperating, had sought a note from his doctor stating that his impotence might be reversed. But the doctor refused, saying he wasn't sure.
When news about Bonvallet's plight reached the Most Rev. Joseph L. Imesch of the Joliet diocese, the bishop consulted with church leaders and doctors who treat spinal cord injuries, and said he saw no reason why the couple could not marry in the church. "The church has always upheld the basic right of every person to marry," Imesch said in a written statement."I regret the pain and anguish they have suffered."
Catholic marriage doctrine developed out of legal cases in which marriage partners asked permission to marry again because their first marriage was somehow deficient. From the 13th century on, church law drew a strong connection between the consent of the partners and consummation. A marriage in which the partners had never had intercourse could be annulled by church courts, but infertility or failure to continue sexual relations did not invalidate a marriage.
One reason impotence is regarded as an impediment to marriage is that the church regards procreation as a primary purpose of marriage, said the Rev. Charles Curran, a Catholic University moral theologian.
Some church authorities had urged that impotence be dropped as an impediment to marriage from the newly revised code of canon law, Curran said, but the church has decided to "hold on to its old understanding."
He said some church authorities admit that a change in the church's position on impotence could lead to a change in its stand on contraception, which is that artificial means of birth control violate the purpose of marriage.
Having to prove potency could mean "asking a person to do something that was unethical," said Rev. Richard McCormick, a moral theologian at Georgetown University in Washington.
"I think the teaching of the church on impotence demands a long second look," McCormick said. "If a man marries a woman who desperately wants children without informing her that he is impotent, that's a substantial deception. But if they agree they are not marrying to have children because he or she cannot, I don't see anything wrong with that, if it is a mutually agreed-on thing."
He said the idea that impotence prevents a valid marriage "is tied to the notion that procreation of children is the primary purpose of marriage. Once you modify that and say that while procreation is essential there are other essential ends, the giving and exchange of human affection and love and the human growth that fosters -- all of which is admitted by the Vatican Council II, then you have to take a long look at theology underlying the notion of impotence."