By Father KENNETH DOYLE
Q. In our pastor's homily last week he stressed how important it is for teenagers to be vaccinated for COVID-19. From the pulpit, he praised a group of teenagers who are actively encouraging others their age to be vaccinated, and he said that those who decide not to get the vaccine are being complacent.
This upset a lot of parents in our congregation, who claimed that it was divisive. I'm wondering whether each parish is autonomous in its stance on vaccines, or is it supposed to follow a centrally coordinated message dispersed among all archdioceses? (Atlanta)
A. Certainly many Catholic leaders -- beginning with Pope Francis -- have urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a video message produced in August 2021, the pope praised the work of researchers in producing safe and effective vaccines and said that getting the vaccine is an "act of love." Doing so, he explained, "is a simple yet profound way to care for one another, especially the most vulnerable."
To answer your direct question, I am not aware of any "centrally coordinated message dispersed among all archdioceses" in this regard, though it seems clear that many church leaders are strongly encouraging vaccination.
But as to recommending it for teenagers, I think we should defer to the will of parents since no one cares about their children more than a parent does. If a pulpit appeal urges teenagers to avail themselves of the vaccine, it should include the proviso that parents deserve the final say.
Q. I have been married for 21 years to a wonderful man. We had a Catholic wedding, even though I was not Catholic at the time. We now have two daughters and a happy family life together, which includes regular Mass attendance.
Three years ago, I decided to convert to Catholicism; in the course of my instructional program, I learned the church's view that a sexual union is a big part of marriage and is the unique connection of man and wife in the eyes of God.
Here's the problem. We have a totally celibate marriage. With the exception of trying to conceive five years after we were married, we have had no sexual intercourse whatsoever.
This is not mutual. I would welcome a sexual union with my husband; I have begged and pleaded with him, but he's just not interested. I had to threaten him with divorce to get him to have sex with me when we were trying to conceive.
At the time we were married, I knew that the relationship would be a celibate one, since my husband told me so. I didn't think it would be such a big deal, since I loved him so much (and still do).
But I was wrong. I spoke with a priest in our parish about all this, and he told me that, since we had children, clearly we had consummated the marriage and I should just deal with it. What do you say? (Brooklyn, New York)
A. I say that you should speak with your diocese and seek a referral to a canon lawyer. The Catholic view of marriage has always been that it includes the right to have sexual relations with one's spouse.
What you need to ask is whether your marriage in the church was even a valid one to begin with; though you agreed to celibacy at the outset, this seems to have been imposed by your husband as a condition for the marriage -- which, I would think, calls into question the validity of the contract itself.
Then, having consulted with the canonist, bring that information back to your husband. I am not advocating the end of your marriage -- especially since you love your husband and have two children -- but perhaps you can persuade your husband to grant what is legitimately yours.
Perhaps you and your husband could seek marriage therapy to discuss his insistence on a celibate marriage.
- - -
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.