Thoughts on Godparent/Witness Roles Regarding Possible Baptism/Christening of Baby Girl

Sorry this is so long and rambling. :blush:

My husband’s brother is a cradle Catholic who received the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation and Matrimony. His marriage ended in civil divorce after two children were born. He did not seek a Declaration of Nullity regarding his marriage. He is a fallen away Catholic who has not practiced his faith in many years. He appears to be completely uninterested in returning to the faith, supports social issues that are contrary to the Faith and appears to now be anti-Catholic.

Since his civil divorce, he has attempted a new marriage, which is invalid in the eyes of the Catholic Church since he does not have a Declaration of Nullity, nor did he seek or receive the proper dispensations to marry a Methodist in a Methodist Church, which are the particulars of the new marriage. (Though I am aware that the proper term isn’t “new marriage” since it really isn’t a marriage at all in the eyes of the Church because he is still married to another, I’ll use it for the sake of clarity because I don’t know how else to refer to it. I’ll use the term “new wife” in the same way.) Anyway, he and his new wife are expecting a baby girl soon. Neither of them practices any faith, but two of my husband’s sisters mentioned being Godmothers, and one suggested she needed to use some strong hints so that the couple would choose her to serve as Godmother to the child. That brings me to several thoughts, a couple of possible scenarios, and questions, since the mention prompts the idea that Baptism or Christening has possibly been discussed by the couple with these two sisters.

Considering that the baby’s father is in an invalid marriage, has been nonpracticing for years, and is somewhat hostile to the Church, it would be surprising if the couple will attempt to have the baby baptized as a Catholic. Even if they do attempt that, I would think that the Baptism would be deferred unless/until the baby’s dad returns to practicing his faith and that there is a well-founded hope that the baby will be raised Catholic, since that is canon law regarding Baptism. That would involve several steps for the child’s parents, including her father seeking and receiving a Declaration of Nullity and then having the new marriage convalidated in the Church (if the first marriage is found to be null), and then her dad would have to begin practicing and living the Faith again so he could teach the child the Catholic Faith.

So, if the child is not baptized a Catholic and is instead christened a Methodist, I do not see how the sisters can serve as a Godparent since they too are cradle Catholics, (though one has not been a practicing Catholic most of her adult life and the other is a progressive Catholic who strongly differs with several teachings of the Church). As such, maybe each could serve and possibly would serve as a Godmother in the Methodist Church after all, since I don’t know what Methodists believe or how they view the role of a Godparent.

But, I do not see how my husband if asked could serve as a Godfather, since I cannot see how a faithful Catholic could serve as a Godparent to a Methodist child. I know some people view the role of Godparent as a purely social or honorary title, but Holy Mother Church views it differently, so it means something else to my husband and me. We know that a Godparent is a person who positively influences Catholic Faith life, who is a good example and witness to the Faith, and who would guide and teach the child the Faith in the event that his parents could not or do not. So, if hubby were asked to take on this role for the child, he would have to decline the role if she is christened instead of being baptized.

If, in fact, the baby girl is christened in the Methodist church, is it sinful and scandalous if we go witness the christening, considering we know her father is a cradle Catholic who should be raising his children as Catholics, though he has left the Church and is choosing this life instead? If they christen her, she is a Christian and at least there is some hope that she is put on a path toward God, even if it isn’t through the Catholic Church, or at least not yet. We still hope her dad returns Home, but in the interim, would it be wrong to be involved in a christening as witnesses and celebrate her becoming a Christian and taking a step toward God?

A Catholic may participate as a witness of a non-Catholic baptism, but not be a godparent.

1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism:
98. It is the Catholic understanding that godparents, in a liturgical and canonical sense, should themselves be members of the Church or ecclesial Community in which the baptism is being celebrated. They do not merely undertake a responsibility for the Christian education of the person being baptized (or confirmed) as a relation or friend; they are also there as representatives of a community of faith, standing as guarantees of the candidate’s faith and desire for ecclesial communion.

a) However, based on the common baptism and because of ties of blood or friendship, a baptized person who belongs to another ecclesial Community may be admitted as a witness to the baptism, but only together with a Catholic godparent. A Catholic may do the same for a person being baptized in another ecclesial Community.

b) Because of the close communion between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, it is permissible for a just cause for an Eastern faithful to act as godparent; together with a Catholic godparent, at the baptism of a Catholic infant or adult, so long as there is provision for the Catholic education of the person being baptized, and it is clear that the godparent is a suitable one.

A Catholic is not forbidden to stand as godparent in an Eastern Orthodox Church, if he or she is so invited. In this case, the duty of providing for the Christian education binds in the first place the godparent who belongs to the Church in which the child is baptized.

I wonder if we have obligations, when not married, to raise our children as Catholic. Probably:

CIC Canon 226.2 Because they gave life to their children, parents have the most serious obligation and the right to educate them. It is therefore primarily the responsibility of christian parents to ensure the christian education of their children in accordance with the teaching of the Church.

Yes, you are correct that your husband cannot stand as a godparent in a Methodist baptism of the child of two fallen away Catholics in an invalid marriage.

Attending the baptism would certainly signal approval and I probably wouldn’t attend, but you aren’t forbidden to attend. The baptism itself will be valid, although the child will be deprived of the fullness of truth and the sacraments.

Thank you for the specific canon laws. It helps to be prepared when declining the role if asked.

I think the baby should be baptized and raised as a Catholic and all the necessary steps should be taken toward that end. If the child is not baptized Catholic, I personally have issues with going to a christening in the Methodist Church because the child should be a Catholic. But, I know hubby will want to try to be supportive of his brother to try to heal family rifts that already exist. That is why we attended the “wedding” to the new wife, though that would not have been my own personal choice. Since we each were counseled to attend by different clergy in the hope that brother would return to the Church one day, that is what we did. I suspect hubby will also want to go to a christening for the same reason, to keep doors open in the hope that we could positively influence a return to the Faith. I suspect that it is being overly optimistic to think that brother will actually return to the Faith. But, hope springs eternal, I guess.

But, I think it was a mistake to go along to get along by attending the wedding. What good did it do with the wedding? Now, they are “married” and expecting a child and everything is peachy. Hubby did try to explain to brother months prior to the wedding ceremony the steps brother needed to take to be in a valid new marriage (only if he actually received a Declaration of Nullity) so that he might easily return to the Church if he so desired that someday. On our side of the issue, I think it went right over brother’s head that it was a very difficult decision for us to even attend his wedding as faithful Catholics and that we wrestled with and anguished over that decision for months before the wedding. Of course, hubby didn’t say that, but I’m pretty sure brother didn’t get it at all that making that phone call was very hard for my husband and then the results were nothing for the effort. If we just go ahead and attend the christening, I think the same thing will happen. Brother just won’t get it and it will be another missed opportunity to let him know how far away from the Church and Her teachings he has wandered.

There has already been pain and tension in the family relationships. Hubby just wants to avoid more pain. I understand that. He wants to try to preserve some type of relationship with his only brother. But, I don’t think it is the right thing to do as Catholics to keep just going along to get along. I know we need to more forcefully point out the teachings of the Church and OUR adherence to them and risk family wrath and disdain for trying to be faithful Catholics ourselves. Knowing that and verbalizing that to my husband is just going to cause issues between hubby and me. Sigh.

Actually, brother is the only fallen away Catholic. The new wife is a Methodist who isn’t practicing. But, thank you for supporting that hubby cannot serve as Godparent.

It is my fear that hubby will just want to attend to keep the peace. I was trying to find a positive in that. The positive I found is that the baby girl will at least be a Christian (though not one well taught since neither parent practices his/her faith, but maybe that will change with this baby) even if she isn’t Catholic. Maybe someday she will be a Catholic through the influence of her dad, especially if it is important enough to him and his new wife to seek Baptism or christening for the baby.

And, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride…


I would hate to be in this position. When I as in this position I did the wrong thing, as I did not understand the meaning of scandal and my obligations. I assisted at a wedding in the Presbyterian Church of a baptised Catholic.

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