Pastoral Care for the Sterilized
by Father Tom Hennessey (St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Thomaston, GA)

In my short time as a priest, I have seen the damage that is done by sin.
Sin destroys life, shortens life, and takes away the meaning of life. I have
worked with couples with many different problems but most problems are
simply the result of sin. The root of all sin is pride and this can be
broken down into the different categories, which are lust, gluttony, sloth,
anger, pride, covetous, and envy.

One of the more serious problems with counseling couples is the problem of
contraception and sterilization. The couple may come in to discuss all the
different problems they are having, but what they do not often see is that
these are the symptoms to the greater illness. A priest is much like a
doctor who analysis the symptoms and then looks at the root problem. A
doctor may look at difficulty breathing and other signs and then come to the
realization that this person has Lung cancer and not just a bad cold. A
priest must do the same thing, looking at the problems, from adultery to bad
communication and find the possible causes of these effects.

One of the first questions that I ask, after hearing the different problems
that are taking place is, "Are you using some form of contraception?" After
hearing the answer to that question, I can begin to look at the other
problems. One of the most difficult answers to hear is, " No, my husband
(wife) has been sterilized." Sterilization is now a very common means of
contraception and possible the most common in the United States.

Sterilization consists in a very intrusive surgery, in which a part of the
body is mutilated to stop it from functioning properly. It is dangerous in
the short term and the long term but still it has become common.
Sterilization also attacks the basic meaning of marriage.

Marriage is a union of a man and a woman and God. It is a promise of love
between two people and God to be faithful for life and to be open to life.
God has designed marriage to build the couple in their love by desiring to
have children. In marriage, two people must learn to sacrifice their own
desires and their very selves for the betterment of the other. Marriage is
other centered instead of self-centered. Children are the essential
ingredient in changing mans struggle to be other centered. However, more
than the children are the willingness to conform our will to God's. For it is
in conforming our will to God's that we learn to accept all things from God.

When a couple sterilizes themselves, they act against the two great
commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. They have
chosen themselves above God by doing their own will not taking God's command
into effect. They have also made an intention before God and broken that
promise, "to accept children lovingly from God." The couple also act against
their neighbor, in which their spouse is the first one affected. This action
will affect many others in a very harmful fashion.

Therefore, in guiding sterilized couples, I first call them to confession
and repentance to begin the healing process. The most difficult part of the
healing process is repairing the damage done by the sinful action.

In all confessions, the process of healing includes four parts; be sorry for
sins, have a firm purpose of avoiding the sin, confess our sins to a priest,
and be willing to do our penance. The penance should consist in repairing
the damage done if possible. Therefore, a couple must be willing to go
through the process of correcting the sterilization, if possible. Sometimes
this may be very difficult because of the expense involved in having a
reversal. The couple must see this part of repentance as all others, a
chance to repair damage caused by sinful action. This process is for the
couple's best interest, to repair damage that now exists within the
marriage. It would be comparable to the family home, which was damaged by an
ice storm and part of the roof collapses. The family should see the need to
repair the roof, but the house may still be livable. The roof should be
repaired so that the family returns to a former basic existence.

All couples need to grow deeper in understanding of the marriage sacrament. They should see
the need for the complete understanding of marriage and all its parts so they fully participate in
this mystery, the mystery of life.