Church limits marriage within families

Friday, May 31, 2019 - Updated: 2:05 pm

QUESTION: Before some of the changes took place in the church, I know that people were not allowed to marry within a certain “degree of kindred.” I remember that such a rule was rather strictly enforced. Today, however, we don’t hear much about this issue. I wonder how the Catholic Church views this matter today?


ANSWER: There are two parts of the current law of the church that specifically apply to this question. The first is Canon 1091, which says, “In the direct line of consanguinity, marriage is invalid between all ancestors and descendants, whether they are related legitimately or naturally.” It also states, “In the collateral line of consanguinity, marriage is invalid up to and including the fourth degree.”

The term “consanguinity” implies “blood” relatives descending from one person to another (parent-child, grandparent-grandchild, etc.), or of those related to a common ancestor (brother-sister, uncle and niece, first cousins, second cousins, etc.). Various prohibitions against such marriage have existed from the beginning of human society.

The Catholic Church holds that divine law prohibits marriage of all people related in the direct line (parent-child, grandparent-child) as well as those related in the second degree of the collateral line (brother-sister). No dispensations from these prohibitions are possible.

Church law also prohibits marriage between those in the third degree of the collateral line (aunt and nephew, uncle and niece). This prohibition also applies to those in the fourth degree of the collateral line (first cousins or great-aunt and grandnephew or great-uncle and grandniece). Since it is from church law that these prohibitions arise, it is possible to obtain a dispensa­tion from them for a serious reason.

In addition to these issues, prohibitions also exist regarding marriage to those related in what is called affinity (in-laws). Thus, Canon 1092 states, “Affinity in the direct line in any degree whatsoever invalidates matrimony.”

Therefore, this law indicates that marriage may not be entered by a spouse with all of the other spouse’s relatives in the direct line (father, mother, grandmother, grandfather, etc.). This law also would include any children born of another marriage (step-children, step-grandchildren).

Affinity only arises between a spouse and the relatives of the partner in marriage and not between the relatives of one and the relatives of the other (for example, a spouse’s parents or brothers and sisters are NOT related by affinity to the parents or brothers and sisters of the other spouse). Relation­ship by affinity is a matter of church law, and dispensations are possible if serious reasons exist.

Although greatly simplified within current church law, this entire matter is not always easy to understand. It is placed within church law (and many civil law codes) as an expression of very ancient prohibitions against such “close” relationships.

When families and communities lived closely and moved infrequently or not of any distance, questions about these relationships were more frequently asked. Today in our culture, and with the wide movement of individuals and families, it is not frequently encountered as a problem. The universal law of the church, however, applies to people in all places. Therefore, there are rules and directives for such circumstances.


Father Bober is administrator of the parish grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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