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So I heard priests literally claiming: "A marriage entered with no desire to have children is invalid."

Of course, we all know that in the ceremony, the couple is asked: "Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God ..."
Still, that's not active desire. And similarly, I heard that a mere openness to children is enough.

So what actually is the necessary psychological state to marry according to the Catholic Church? I don't mean how it ideally should be, but the bare minimum for a valid marriage. Because one sure can get pregnant or father a child, while not wanting this to happen.

Still, it would be strange if a consummated marriage with children that was in every other way valid could turn out to be invalid because one of the partners didn't want children. One could point to the existing children, and so at least we can assume they gave into unprotected intercourse (they knew what would likely happen!), and became a parent. Is this enough?

Historically, this was perhaps not such a rare situation, e.g. on the part of the woman in marriages of high nobility. Some probably had mixed feelings about it, not an active, unequivocal desire – especially since childbirth was so dangerous.

PS: at best, I'd like to hear from authoritative sources that explain this issue.

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3 Answers 3

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Children need not be actively and directly willed by the spouses in order to validly contract a marriage. And, even if spouse are willing not to have children right away, as long as they are willing to have children eventually, then the marriage is valid. However, if either spouse is actively willing not to have children indefinitely, the marriage will not be valid, because it lacks one of the four requirements for a valid marriage contract. This only applies if it is true at the time of the vows that at least one of the spouses are indefinitely closed off to life.

This Catholic Answers article goes into more detail. It lists the four conditions for marriage near the bottom, the fourth of which is "fruitful."

If a spouse did not want children at the time of the marriage, it's invalid, even if they have consented to children later. In this case, the best course of action is to seek convalidation or some other means of validating the marriage. Then, the marriage will be valid from the moment that consent to this new form of validation is gathered, presuming that all four conditions are met.

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I read the question as: can a marriage be valid if one or both partners say “I don’t really desire to have children, but I do willingly accept children, should we be given them”. To turn it around: “yes, I am prepared to accept children… but should God not give them to us, I will not be very sad”

According to church law, there is no real problem with that position as I see it. As long as you understand:

Can. 1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.

and

Can. 1061 §1. 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.

So the bare minimum is this. It is not absolutely needed to desire children, but it is absolutely needed to do what makes it possible to receive children and if children are given, you welcome them wholeheartedly.

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Catholic wedding vows normally include a commitment to "accept children lovingly from God." According to the Order of Celebrating Matrimony the priest asks the couple:

"Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?" The bridegroom and bride each say: "I am."

The couple has formally affirmed that they are willing to accept children from God prior to agreeing to the marriage. If they actually were not willing to do so, they have received the priest's blessing under false pretenses and the marriage is not considered valid.

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  • Yes, I mentioned this in the original post. But some priests phrase this as a "You need to really want children if you want to marry!", which is strictly different from "I don't actually want children, but I'm prepared to accept them". It seems perhaps an adjustment for modern times, because nowadays, you usually only get children if you really want them.
    – viuser
    Jan 19 at 17:55

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