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Tuesday October 21, 2014
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An Afternoon With Amy Strickland, JCL

 

On Sunday, February 4, 2001, Cousincouples.com welcomed a very special guest join us in the chatroom. Amy Jill Strickland is a Canon Lawyer, originally from the United States and now residing in Belgium while working on her Doctoral Dissertation on marriage impediments in the Catholic and other churches. We are deeply appreciative that she volunteered her time to be able to answer our questions regarding dispensation, and the history of the Catholic restrictions on cousin marriages.
The following transcript has been edited to allow for optimal readability.
(The questions and answers have been paired up, and the extraneous conversation has been omitted.)

Amy Strickland - Please welcome Amy Strickland, a Canon Lawyer, who has joined us today to discuss cousin marriage in the Catholic Church. - from 134.58 using Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows 98; Compaq) on 2/4 at 2:53pm EST)
CnMe - amy hello! i'm christie, the one you've been corresponding with!
Amy Strickland - Hi, Christie!
Amy Strickland - I'm early, so we can wait a few minutes to start.
CnMe - i'm so excited... this should be a great chat session. more people will probably be dropping in, but we can get started now if you'd like 
CnMe - either way...
CnMe - cathy, amy is our expert guest today. we try to schedule a different expert who can donate some time about once a month or so....
Cathy - Oh, that's great. You guys really do a lot of positive things here. What other experts have you had
CnMe - so far we've had a psychologist, a producer from montel, and martin ottenheimer who wrote the book forbidden relatives
CnMe - before we get started, i'd like to remind everybody that i will be posting the transcript from this session on the site later. doing so requires a bit of editing and formatting, so if everybody doesn't mind, i'd like to ask that nobody sends private messages back and forth while amy is here 
tony - Hi cnme, hi cathy, hi amy
Amy Strickland - Since it seems to be getting closer to the "magic hour," would anyone like to start with a question? Hi, Tony! I think we are just about to start. I have about an hour, so feel free to fill it up!
Amy Strickland - I'm open to really any marriage question relating to the Catholic Church, and I have some experience with Anglicanism and Orthodoxy as well.



CnMe - amy, there was one person who emailed me a question to ask since she would not be able to be here today...
Amy Strickland - Fire away, Christie!
CnMe - she apparently was told by her priest that she could only be granted dispensation if she were a) pregnant, b) desperate, or c) dying. do different churches have different criteria you have to meet?
CnMe - by desperate he meant she'd have to live in such a small town that there were no other suitable marriage candidates
Amy Strickland - If he was a Catholic priest, and it is legal for her to marry in her state, he was mistaken. If you want to give her my e-mail address, feel free.
Amy Strickland - The law in the Catholic Church changed a lot in 1983, and some priests were trained under the old legislation and haven't made the change yet.
Amy Strickland - ...not by way of an excuse, just a possible explanation!
CnMe - great, i will do that. is there action she can take to force her priest to give dispensation?
Amy Strickland - The dispensation doesn't come from the priest. It comes from the diocese directly. She can call the chancery office herself and bypass the priest.
CnMe - oh good!
Amy Strickland - Just as an observation, when we are talking about cousin marriages tonight, I only mean 1st cousins. Prior to 1983, 2nd cousins were prohibited from marrying too. That is no longer the case.
CnMe - i wondered about that, because i had thought that there used to be more degrees of forbidden cousins


tony - What about Protestant religion? Do you know about cousin marriages in the Prodestant religion?
Amy Strickland - In Protestantism, except for the Episcopal Church, there is no internal law governing the churches. They each follow civil law on affinity (relationship by marriage) and consangunity (blood relationship).
tony - So as long as its legal in the state its legal in the church? is that what that means?
Amy Strickland - Right. As long as it is legal in the state, it should be legal in the church. That would hold true for all mainline Protestant traditions (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) that have some structure. Other smaller groups might have different rules.


CnMe - amy, my husband just reminded me of another question.... what kinds of fees are involved in dispensation, and are they standard for all churches?
Amy Strickland - As for fees in the Catholic Church, they should be minimal ($25-$50), to non-existent. This will vary from place to place.
CnMe - i have heard some people say that they were told fees of up to $500... if a catholic church sets such a fee, do they have to pay such an amount?
Amy Strickland - I would be amazed if they were told that by the diocese. Perhaps by another misinformed priest, or someone who wants to dissuade them, or doesn't know the difference between the cost for an annulment and one for a dispensation. Hi, Slamb!
Slamb - hi Amy


CnMe - amy, i think we all know what an annulment is, but, could you give us an accurate definition of exactly what dispensation means? is it like forgiveness, or is it just permission with no adverse affects
Amy Strickland - A dispensation, in Catholic law, is permission to do something that would otherwise be against the law.
CnMe - so are people who are granted dispensation looked down on by other church members?
Amy Strickland - No one would know, unless you told them.
CnMe - LOL, that is true!
CnMe - I'm going to shut up for a minute and give others a chance to ask questions.... but only for a minute LOL


tony - Can churches make up there own rules to things like that, I thought they had a set of rules to go by
Amy Strickland - Tony, do you mean their own rules on what to charge?
tony - well as far as anything, like charging or things of that nature
Amy Strickland - As for money first, there are not fixed fees across the US (where I'm imagining most of you are), because of the variation in economic circumstances. If there is ever a fee, there is always a provision for hardship cases.


CnMe - so is there a specific set of criteria that must be met to obtain dispensation?
Amy Strickland - You have to meet the requirements of civil law, and some dioceses require that you have genetic counseling.
CnMe - so basically, there's not really much that would prevent dispensation from being granted, provided they are legal, and willing to get genetic counseling if required right?
Amy Strickland - There is also the fuzzy issue of "scandal," especially if there is a great deal of family opposition, or if the couple is known to everyone in the community to be related.

tony - What about if the state you live in does not allow cousin marrages, in a protestant church is there a way to get around that?
Amy Strickland - If the state you live in does not allow cousin marriage, you cannot be married in any church in the state.
Slamb - what about a justice of the peace?
Amy Strickland - No. All those people are functioning as "servants" of the state. Therefore, they can't do anything that would be illegal civilly.
Slamb - bummer
Slamb - Amy, my sister has been going through a tough time. Over the last several years, born a Baptist, changed to Mormon and now she is a Catholic.
Amy Strickland - Okay...that's quite a variation!
tony - In wisconsin, the only way you can marry your cousin is if you don't bear children, how would you go about proving that if you wanted to get married in a church, (proving it to state and church)
Slamb - tony, are you Catholic? Duh!
tony - no I'm protestant slamb
Amy Strickland - I spoke to someone in the Catholic Church in Wisconsin, and my understanding was that the requirement is not that one doesn't bear children, but that one is sterile.
CnMe - tony, you would have to provide the state with a certification from your doctor that you could not reproduce


CnMe - amy, since the bible does not have any such restrictions, why does canon law require a dispensation to get married? what is their basis? i guess i'm looking for a bit of the history of the catholic church's impediments
Amy Strickland - There are church restrictions against cousin marriages that appear in formal church legislation as early as the 600s. Greetings, KC!
KC - Hello everyone 
CnMe - amy, kc is the founder of cousincouples.com... he's the boss man
CnMe - so what initially prompted the church to make the restrictions?
Amy Strickland - Christie, the text of the primary canon on the subject in the Orthodox Church may shed some light: Holy Scripture clearly teaches us: "None shall approach near of kin to uncover their nakedness" (Leviticus 18:6); and the God-bearing Basil has enumerated certain forbidden marriages in his canons, whilst passing over most of them in silence, in both ways affording us benefit: foregoing mention of shameful designations, lest his speech should be sullied by such words, he has defined these impurities in general terms, and thereby has given us summary indication of unlawful marriages. But, whereas through this silence and indeterminateness of the prohibition of unlawful marriages, human nature has been confounded, we have decided to set forth these things more bluntly, decreeing that henceforth any man who enters into marriage with his first cousin, or a father and son with a mother and daughter, or a father and son with two sisters, or a mother and daughter with two brothers, or two brothers with two sisters, they shall be subject to the canonical penalty of seven years, and obviously desist from their unlawful marriage.
Amy Strickland - While Leviticus obviously doesn't prohibit cousin marriages, it was read this way very early on. Then, this crept into Roman law, which is the foundation for Catholic canon law. The text I just gave you is from 691, so this all started rather early! It is not, as I've seen reported, based on financial reasons.
Amy Strickland - Most traditions with canon law have increasingly limited the categories of people who cannot marry validly, but this has taken a lot of time.
CnMe - i guess it is a good thing that jacob, isaac, and zelophehad's and eleazar's daughters weren't catholic, huh? 
Slamb - LOL
CnMe - that's really interesting... i had always assumed that it was to help distribute the wealth in the individual parishes, by preventing the wealthy families from marrying only within the family
Slamb - No disrepect, Amy.
CnMe - yes, i didn't mean any disrespect either... i just couldn't resist the tongue in cheek comment 
Amy Strickland - No problem, Slamb! Actually, the preponderance of 1st cousin marriages in several Middle Eastern nations is largely for financial reasons. But, those marriages are complicated, because the people are usually related more closely than 1st cousins, due to the years of intermarriage.
Amy Strickland - The Catholic Church doesn't say that it is divine law that first cousins can't marry...although it does say this for parent-child marriages. It is merely ecclesiastical law, like clerical celibacy.
CnMe - good point! i'd never thought about that. but in certain countries, birth defects are higher than average for cousin marriages, much more so than in western civilizations... i guess in those countries a cousin is not just a cousin...


KC - Amy Strickland, has the question been asked, about the cost of a dispensation. I have conflicting reports
Amy Strickland - Go ahead, KC...conflicting reports about costs...
KC - Some have said it didn't cost anything, while others insist that the cost was so high that they could not afford one
Amy Strickland - KC, if you have anything substantiating high costs, or people who want help because they've been told an high price, please send them to me. I've never heard of anything like that in the USA or Canada.
Amy Strickland - But, I'm sure some things do get past me!
KC - Amy Strickland, I see. So there could be a cost in order to discourage cousin-cousin marriage?
Amy Strickland - They could be told a cost by their parish priest to dissuade them, but I don't think anyone in the office granting the dispensation would do it.
KC - Amy Strickland, OK I understand now


Slamb - Are most people here Catholic?
echo - i am christian, from the Uk so i don't know that works
KC - Slamb, not me, but this is interesting!
Cathy - Likewise
CnMe - slamb, i'm not catholic, and am really quite ignorant on catholic laws and traditions... but many people who come here are, and i feel it's very important for kc and i, and all of us to be able to answer their questions knowledgeably.... which is why we are SOOO grateful for amy joining us!
CnMe - lol, amy... you're only in the minority at this particular moment... sometimes we have more catholics than others in here
Amy Strickland - So, see, I'm in the minority!
KC - Amy Strickland, yes than you for taking the time to join us. We are all pretty open minded around here
CnMe - amy, you're not leaving yet are you?
Amy Strickland - Well, I'm not as interesting as the Montel person! No, I'm not leaving yet, if people still have questions.


Amy Strickland - I think I actually saw that show on Montel when I was in the States...some people kept calling it incest.
CnMe - oh, did you see the one with me and my hubby on it? the one with the irate mother (of dan)? or did you see the second one with the couple who'd lost custody of their child?
Amy Strickland - Oh, my, Christie...I think I saw you! Is she the rather passionate fundamentalist type?
CnMe - lol, i was the one who came on first... straight blondish hair, and mark had a yellow shirt and a ponytail
Amy Strickland - Christie, is your mom-in-law the one who kept saying it is against the Bible?
CnMe - that was dan's mom, theresa's mother in law. my parents and inlaws weren't on the show... but my teenage daughter was
CnMe - i'll send you a photo later of me and mark that will jog your memory 
CnMe - mark's and my families are very supportive, and i'm so grateful!
echo - the montel show and shows like that are no good for issues like that between cousins. all they are interested in is controversay and ratings and not telling the facts about how they stand
CnMe - lol, montel is a very controversial subject. foxnews.com is doing an article on us though, which should be much more open minded
Cathy - When is that happening, CnMe?
Slamb - hey C, which and where can I see the foxnew.com
CnMe - the article should be posted by next week sometime... he's looking for people from here to interview now
CnMe - slamb, http://www.foxnews.com and click on fox life
Slamb - Thanks, CnMe 


Amy Strickland - May I ask you all a question?
Amy Strickland - If you are married to your cousin, did you meet as adults?
CnMe - amy, i grew up in the same town as mark, but we didn't see each other for 20 years as adults. we got together when i was... either 33 or 34, i lose track
Slamb - Amy, we grew up in the same town. He was 10 years older than I. We didn't "actually" meet again until my Sophomore year in college.
KC - I saw my cousin off and on as kids. Mostly as teenagers we hooked up
Amy Strickland - I don't think I could have done that! At any rate, I think the Catholic Church would be more receptive to situations like you describe, than a small rural area where the family grows up all in each other's back pocket, almost like lots of brothers and sisters, then the cousins wish to marry.



KC - Amy Strickland, I understand that in some countries, cousin marriage and closer marriages are make up to 80 percent of the population... How does the Catholic Church deal with so many dispensation requests, or are they an entirely different religion? I would expect some of these populations to be Catholic
Amy Strickland - They are mostly Middle Eastern nations, like Pakistan, which have very few Catholics.
KC - Amy Strickland, thank you. I did not know the scope of the Catholic Church. I am learning here- thanks for the free education
Amy Strickland - I've learned a lot from your site...thanks for that!

CnMe - amy, what got you interested in the issue of consanguinity?
Amy Strickland - I'm writing a comparative study on Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic marriage impediments.
CnMe - i see... that's for part of your discertation or something, right? (is that the right word?)
Amy Strickland - Right, that's my doctoral dissertation. I'm in Belgium now, so it's nearly 10p here.


CnMe - so what other changes were made to canon law in 83 besides dropping the impediment against second cousins
CnMe - oh, that's right... it's getting pretty late for you there! whenever you need to go, just say so... we won't force you to stick around all night, i promise
Amy Strickland - Wow...a lot! It was also a big step in marriages between people who are not both Catholic. This was only the 1st revision ever of the law since 1917. I'm okay for time, at least for 15 min. or so. I need to take a call at 10:30p. Nice meeting you, Slamb!
CnMe - i meant just regarding cousins, LOL... you don't have to go into other changes 
Amy Strickland - That was really the primary change in the Catholic Church regarding cousins. Other Churches have had similar changes in recent years, allowing marriages they wouldn't have allowed before, just like the civil law has changed!


KC - Interesting. Any proposals for same sex marriages? Any divisions there. That seems to be a big issue these days
Amy Strickland - No hope for same-sex marriages.
CnMe - i would think that would be an automatic no-no for any church, but i'm surprised how many protestant churches are now supporting homosexuality. i find it rather shameful, since the bible forbids it so strongly
KC - I didn't think so 


Amy Strickland - How goes the fight in Maryland?
CnMe - they apparently decided not to resubmit the bill this year... which gives us plenty of time to prepare for next year
CnMe - feel free to sign our petition if you'd like 
Amy Strickland - One of my concerns is the issue of sterility in civil legislation. The Church has to uphold this, because ministers act as civil officials when they marry, but I'm afraid it might give people an incentive to sterilize themselves, which we don't support.
Amy Strickland - I'm also not crazy about the issue of genetics testing, since couples who have obvious genetic problems are completely free to marry validly without such testing/counselling.
KC - Amy Strickland, ooh that is a good point! Maybe we can get a petition going to bring change in these laws
Amy Strickland - Just two little pet peeves....
Cathy - That'a a good point Amy
KC - Amy Strickland, now you are on a roll 
KC - the laws are not fair and they defy logic


CnMe - amy, i definitely agree that it shouldn't be legally required, but i'd rather have that requirement on the books than for it not to be allowed at all
Amy Strickland - I'm not stressed by the dispensation idea, since we require the same thing for a Catholic who wants to marry a Jew, for example, and it's fairly simple. But, I don't like the other requirements people who wish to have religious marriages have to meet, because they are civil law matters.
CnMe - and you said there is some sort of financial aid available if you can't afford a dispensation fees?
CnMe - or a waiver or something?
Amy Strickland - Christie, I understand your perspective. But, according to Catholic canon law, while one can marry validly if sterile, getting something like a vasectomy is a sin. So, it's a Catch-22. It's not a matter of financial aid with the fees, but waiving them, or asking for what the couple can afford.
CnMe - i can see your point... it seems like discrimination against catholics then, doesn't it. could that be fought on some constitutional grounds, do you think?
Amy Strickland - I suppose they would say just wait until after menopause!
CnMe - LOL, that could be a LOOOONNG wait!
CnMe - they could just say move to another state... many people have to do that anyways. it's not fair, but it's the way it is...
KC - CnMe, yea. The idea of the government requiring such a stipulation makes me sick. They have no businiess in our bedrooms. Sounds like something from Hitler


Amy Strickland - Unfortunately, I should be going now. But, I've enjoyed this! Please feel free to give my e-mail address to anyone who could use it...canonlaw@hotmail.com. Thanks for the great work you are doing!
CnMe - amy, thank you so much for coming! i may email you if i have other questions, too....
echo - thanks for coming amy. hey i didn't contribute much but it was educational..
KC - Later Amy Strickland. Thank you for taking time with us
CnMe - goodnight 
Amy Strickland - I enjoyed meeting you all, and I hope to sit in as a guest on another one of your expert nights! Bye.


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