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Dear Father Angelo,

First of all, let me thank you for the pastoral service, for the benefit of the many souls who come to you for help.

I’m writing regarding a sin that I define as an “irregular conjugal act”. Is the sin of onanism, which is presented in the Scripture as spilling of seed during the conjugal act with the intent to avoid procreation.

I’ve been married for over 25 years and we have two wonderful children.

Before we started walking in the way of the Lord, perhaps because of our ignorance, perhaps because of a lack of interest, we didn’t realize that this practice goes against the will of God.

Now we are actually trying to change our ways, but unfortunately we are still unable to always contain our instincts; therefore, every now and then, my wife and I fall back into this sin in order to avoid an unwanted pregnancy (conscious that it’s wrong).

We also try to be careful not to procreate (I don’t say this to justify ourselves) because, many years ago, my wife lost a baby between the second and the third month of gestation. Furthermore, even during the two previous pregnancies, which ended well, she encountered several complications, which forced her to be hospitalized for long periods of time. Thanks be to God, everything ended up going well and, as I said, we now have two grown-up children (our daughter is twenty-five, our son nineteen).

That being said, here’s the question:

As I said, as time goes by (in part thanks to an old priest) we now recognize the gravity of this act in the eyes of God, so we try to unite ourselves as much as possible. Whenever we fall back into this sin, we confess it to the first priest available, depending on where we go to Mass.

However, I’ve noticed that, even amongst priests, there’s a bit of confusion, which then is passed onto us. I say this because some of them told us not to worry, and to behave according to our conscience, as long as we love each other. 

Certainly the advice these priests give us is not to be followed: if I were to follow my personal conscience, I would do whatever satisfies me the most, I would follow my animal nature, and therefore I wouldn’t be following the true conscience, meaning the Christian conscience.

On the contrary, other priests have confirmed the seriousness of this sin and therefore recommended we use the natural family planning to avoid conception (uniting ourselves during the time when the wife is not fertile). According to them, this is precisely why God ordained things so that women aren’t always fertile.

I don’t think this line of reasoning is valid, but it should be considered a lesser evil (which is still an evil).

My thought process and my question are as follows:

If I’m waiting for the moment my wife is not fertile, I’m already starting with the intent not to create a life, so what’s the difference between this approach and doing the same thing knowing there will be no procreation? It’s like throwing a seed into concrete knowing fully well that it will not grow.

I hope you will confirm that my impression is correct, I would like to hear your opinion.

In any case, my wife and I are considering (hoping to succeed with the help of God) living in chastity so we ask you for a prayer so that we can succeed in our attempt.

I’m sure of your blessing and I warmly greet you.

Praise to Jesus Christ.

Priest’s answer

Dear friend,

1. It is not the same thing.

Using the example you gave: a seed thrown into concrete won’t be able to sprout. It’s true. But if you throw it into fertile ground, even if it’s not the correct season, it can sprout.

2. Karol Wojtyla, when still archbishop of Krakow, wrote: “If the possibility of parenthood is deliberately excluded from marital relations, the character of the relationship between partners automatically changes. The change is away from unification in love and in the direction of a mutual, or rather bilateral ‘enjoyment’.” (Love and Responsibility, p. 228).

And: “If [a man] does violence to ‘nature’, he also ‘violates’ the person by making it an object of enjoyment rather than an object of love. Acceptance of the possibility of procreation in the marital relationship safeguards love and is an indisputable condition of a truly personal union.” (Ib., p. 229).

3. Furthermore, the thing which changes the nature of the relationship is precisely the availability to procreation, which, even if it’s not desired in the moment, is not however excluded or refused, as it happens with contraception, which obviously changes God’s design for human love and sexuality. 

4. God will bless you for not having followed the advice that some confessors gave you.

When it comes to them, it is unfortunately true that which Pius XI said in Casti Connubii: “We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls, in virtue of Our supreme authority and in Our solicitude for the salvation of souls, not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God; much more, that they keep themselves immune from such false opinions, in no way conniving in them. If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust, and let him take to himself the words of Christ: “They are blind and leaders of the blind: and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit. (Mt 15,14)” (CC 57).

5. The Pope uses strong language.

He also prays for these priests because they will have to render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust.

It is a serious responsibility they assumed onto themselves.

And they assumed it light-heartedly.

6. You say that you’re considering the possibility of living in perfect chastity with your wife. You wouldn’t be the first ones to do it. 

Think about the Maritains, the blessed Beltrame Quattrocchi and many others who we know about from their confessors.

I can assure you that abstinence chosen together does not diminish conjugal harmony and dedication.

I remember a couple who had just celebrated their 50th anniversary. They told me in regards to this: “Our love is not the same as it was. We love each other in a different way. Our love has become stronger”. 

I wish you the best, recommend you to the Lord and bless you. 

Father Angelo