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Catholics may not use vasectomy, tubal ligation, or other forms of surgery to deprive their bodies of the natural, God-given power of procreation.


2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).[1]

Canon Law Norm on Penance

Can. 981 The confessor is to impose salutary and suitable penances in accord with the quality and number of sins, taking into account the condition of the penitent. The penitent is obliged to fulfill these personally.[2]

"Salutary" comes from the Latin word for "health." It is related to the word "salvation." A salutary penance is one intended to restore the health of the whole person.

A "suitable" penance is one that matches the "quality and number of sins." This is a prudential judgment made by the confessor about what kind of penance is appropriate for the sins that have been confessed.

The Church does not provide a specific table of penances for specific sins (although some sins are reserved to the bishop, to special confessors, or to the Holy See). As I understand it, confessors are not obliged to make attempted reversal of vasectomy or tubal ligation a condition of receiving absolution; such surgeries are risky, expensive, not 100% effective in restoring fertility, and, in many cases, medically impossible because of the nature of the preceding surgery; therefore it seems to me that such surgeries are not appropriate to be made a matter of commandment under pain of remaining in a state of sin. I do encourage penitents to seriously consider whether, in view of their sorrow for their sin, they might be willing and able to undergo the reversal surgery, but this is an exhortation, not a commandment.

We must not invent laws that are not on the books. ""When a law is created that seeks to establish a penalty or restrict the free exercise of rights or makes mention of an exception to the law, it must be interpreted strictly."[3] Since there is no canonical requirement to impose reversal surgery as a penance, it seems to me that the right to judge whether to attempt reversal belongs to the penitent, not to the confessor.


  1. CCC 2399.
  2. CIC 981.
  3. Kevin E. McKenna, A Concise Guide to Canon Law: A Practical Handbook for Pastoral Ministers (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2000), 24.


"The Church does not reqire him to have the vasectomy reversed. Such an operation is not always successful and can be a real nightmare, resulting in urinary and bowel difficulties. People are not always aware of this when they decide to have a vasectomy."