Why so many variations in godparent requirements?


#1

are dioceses allowed to add or remove from what canon law stipulates with regards to godparents? my husband and I got into a discussion, and these were some of our observations:

when he was asked to be a godfather, the parish didn’t require any documentation that he was actually catholic, let alone in good standing (no proof of confirmation, nor of parish attendance). at the other extreme, we know there are parishes that require godparents to take their own prep class, parishes that require parents to take a class even if they’ve already had a child baptized there and are active members, parishes that require attendance for a certain length of time before they’ll baptize, and parishes that won’t accept lapsed/former catholics even as christian witnesses.

his specific issue was that if canon law only says certain things, that those are the rules that should be followed, without all these variations. he particularly had a problem with the last example, and I wasn’t sure how to answer other than to say that yes, it IS sort of a penalty for rejecting the church. he countered with, well, what is the practical difference between two people who attend the same protestant church and have the same beliefs, but one was raised in it, and as an adult examined and rejected the catholic faith and remained protestant, and the other has rejected being catholic to become protestant? why should one rejection be “better” than another, and why would the church prefer one over the other, especially when our sacraments of initiation are performed on children who can’t make up their minds (meaning that maybe some of those lapsed/former catholics wouldn’t have chosen to be catholic in the first place if given the choice as an adult)? I assume it has something to do with the person choosing to place themselves in schism, excommunicating themselves, whatever the proper term is, because once catholic always catholic, right?.. a “you should know better” type of thing, even though I bet most people don’t… but I can’t figure out how to explain it.

and… go! :thumbsup:


#2

The Church is not universal in the sense that every little detail of church governance is directed by the Holy See, or even the local chancery. One of the main social teachings of the Church is subsidiarity, ie decisions and problems should be made at the lowest level possible. In addition to this, the Church recognizes the Bishop as the head of the local Church and allows the Bishop great leeway in administering affairs of his diocese. A Bishop, likewise, recognizes Pastors as the head of parishes and grants great leeway in the administration of the parish. This is how it should be.
The common perception of the Catholic Church as a huge monolithic entity controlled by Rome is wrong, both in theory and in practice. This is often to the great consternation of both liberals and conservatives. But it is part of the wise governance of the church.

Certainly pastors and Bishops will make mistakes in their duties. But a mistake at the local level is much less costly than a mistake that affects the whole Church.

The Church does not only preach subsidiarity as part of its social teaching, but practices it with regards to its own affairs.


#3

For Baptism one needs one practicing Catholic and may also have a Christian witness.
But the Catholic is the one with the bulk of responsibility and the one noted in the record.
The Catholic should be a person in good standing in the Church, (validly married and attending Mass, active). The Godparent is agreeing to help the parents out in passing on the faith. A person is just a swell guy and not practicing cannot make that promise. Simple as that.
Our parish requires the parents to take a class if it is their first child, and takes the word of the Godparent’s pastor that they are well catechized. A family in our parish just had their 9th child. They didn’t have to take the class. Common sense. We know them well, they are really involved and regular Mass goers. Their children can almost teach the religious ed classes. Very knowledgeable in the faith.
You have to realize, that many people are chosen because of a sense of family obligation…and they are not at all practicing Catholics, but it would cause trouble if they didn’t ask Aunt Suzie. Pastors feel like they should at least make sure that these people have some instruction, review, if you will…it’s a teaching opportunity, and with the help of the Holy Spirit…maybe they will start to become closer to the Church. We can’t peer into someone’s soul…but the church has a duty to help people.
Asking a good protestant is not an option because the role of Godparent is not merely honorary. It’s about faith sharing with the child. Especially as they get older and have questions. Specifically Catholic.
Each parish has their own methods, but all of them have the same goal, and the same guidelines.
Peace.


#4

In fact, it’s completely accurate and legitimate that a lapsed Catholic cannot be considered a “Christian witness”.

What’s the difference? You’ve got it – one person is a (non-practicing) Catholic and the other is a non-Catholic. And, as canon 872 reminds us, “a sponsor also helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it.” A non-practicing Catholic can’t really help his godchild “fulfill faithfully the obligations” of leading a Catholic life.

From canon law:

Can. 874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:

3/ be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;

§2. A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism.

Note that the Catholic sponsor (i.e., ‘godparent’) must “lead a life of faith”.

Moreover, the stipulation for a ‘Christian witness’ applies only to “a baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community”. A Catholic who has left the Church continues to belong to the Catholic Church in the eyes of the Church, even if he attends some ‘non-Catholic ecclesial community’.


#5

Gorgias is correct. Even if a Catholic stops practicing their Catholic faith in exchange for some other Christian group, they are still Catholics under Canon Law. They cannot opt out and ask to be treated as “Christian witnesses” instead.


#6

tafan, I am aware of that principle but did not know the actual term. thanks!

pianistclare and gorgias, I think you misunderstood, and I apologize if I wasn’t clear. since only one godparent is required, I’m wondering why it matters whether the witness is a lapsed catholic or some other denomination, if they’re not being held accountable for spiritual formation of the child in the first place and are only witnessing. I’m assuming that since you can’t even have a witness without a proper godparent, that there IS a proper godparent.

I’m wondering strictly about the second person - a non-catholic christian can’t help the child “fulfill faithfully the obligation,” either. in fact, they may be even less able to, depending on the particular brand of christianity they subscribe to and their level of devoutness to it. canon law makes no mention of how “practicing” the christian has to be. why should we accept a christian that doesn’t adhere to all the tenets of their denomination, but refuse a catholic that does the same? you’d think we’d want to at least keep the dissent in house, as it were…


#7

gorgias and joe, I found it hard to believe that there would be no free will in being held accountable to catholic doctrine when the person didn’t make the choice to join in the first place. apparently there *is *a formal defection process, but I highly doubt most people actually follow through with it, so for all practical purposes what you said is true. thank you for the clarification that simply ignoring the teachings is not enough to make one non-catholic.


#8

Honestly, I think that there can be a control issue involved.

When DGS2 was baptized, his godmother-to-be (a practicing Catholic with two children in Catholic school) was also to serve as a Confirmation sponsor two months before the Baptism. When she went to her pastor and asked for two letter affirming her status, which she received, just to save everyone a little effort. When DD submitted the letter, our priest objected, saying it did not follow the “form” our church prefers. (The two parishes are less than twelve miles apart.)


#9

Pastors can decide how they will uphold requirements. In some cases, unfortunately, they just trust the people involved and don’t do any additional checking. My sister was asked to be the only godparent to a cousin’s child. She has not been a practicing Catholic since 4th grade. She was not asked to attend any preparation or asked for anything which would document her suitability to be a godparent.


#10

Aah… sorry about that!

I’m assuming that since you can’t even have a witness without a proper godparent, that there IS a proper godparent.

That’s correct. You can have one Catholic godparent, or two Catholic godparents, or one Catholic godparent and one non-Catholic “Christian witness.”

since only one godparent is required, I’m wondering why it matters whether the witness is a lapsed catholic or some other denomination, if they’re not being held accountable for spiritual formation of the child in the first place

Right; I understand your question. A Catholic may be a ‘sponsor’, but a non-Catholic Christian may only be a “Christian witness to the baptism.” In fact, these are the precise notations that are made in the baptismal register for the child: the names of the child’s godparent(s) and/or godparent and Christian witness. The role that’s proper for a Catholic is ‘godparent’. If they are unable to fill that role – due to their lack of practice of the faith, or more often, through a marital status that makes them unable to participate in the sacraments – then “Christian witness” isn’t some sort of ‘consolation prize’ that they’re able to get, instead.

Here’s the thing: you asserted that the godparent isn’t “being held accountable for spiritual formation of the child”… that’s not exactly true. A sponsor “helps the baptized person to lead a Christian life in keeping with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations inherent in it”… so, they do have a role in the formation of the child – through their own witness to the faith!

and are only witnessing.

A lapsed Catholic may certainly do what the ‘Christian witness’ does (i.e., “as a witness of the baptism”); what he cannot do is stand with the child, as if he really were the child’s godparent. If he did that, the natural presumption of all concerned would be that he is a godparent; and that would lead to the misunderstanding that it’s possible to be a poor witness to the Catholic faith of one’s baptism and yet, still be a good godparent.

I’m wondering strictly about the second person - a non-catholic christian can’t help the child “fulfill faithfully the obligation,” either. in fact, they may be even less able to, depending on the particular brand of christianity they subscribe to and their level of devoutness to it.

You’re absolutely correct. The ‘Christian witness’ may only witness the baptism.

canon law makes no mention of how “practicing” the christian has to be. why should we accept a christian that doesn’t adhere to all the tenets of their denomination, but refuse a catholic that does the same?

You’ve hit it right on the head: a non-Catholic Christian merely witnesses the baptism, but a Catholic godparent takes upon himself an office that binds him to aid in the formation of the child.

The provision that allows for a Christian witness is a pastoral solution to a situation in which a couple may wish to include a non-Catholic who is important in their lives, in the baptismal ceremony. As with all pastoral solutions, there is the risk of misunderstanding the overture. In the case of the Christian witness, the participation ends with the baptism – he has witnessed the baptism, and his role is concluded. (In that case, the sole Catholic godparent takes upon himself the responsibility to aid in the child’s formation.)

(Incidentally, the same holds when a Catholic acts as a Christian witness at a non-Catholic Christian baptism. He witnesses the baptism, but does not take on the obligation of forming the child in the faith of his ecclesial community.)

There’s even a greater chance for misunderstanding when parishes provide inaccurate information that ends up misleading people about what a Christian witness is – and isn’t! – and what requirements exist for Catholic godparents. :sad_yes:

I found it hard to believe that there would be no free will in being held accountable to catholic doctrine when the person didn’t make the choice to join in the first place.

Precisely. And that’s why the Christian witness is not held accountable to Catholic doctrine…! :thumbsup:

apparently there is a formal defection process, but I highly doubt most people actually follow through with it, so for all practical purposes what you said is true.

Actually… there used to be provisions in canon law for ‘defection’ from the Church. However, those provisions have been rescinded, so it’s not just a “for all practical purposes” issue – there actually is no way to make oneself “un-Catholic”.


#11

No, I think I would say that it’s more an issue of pragmatism than of a ‘control issue.’

I’m guessing that the ‘form’ that the priest objected to was that the godmother-to-be personally hand-delivered the document to the parish office. Would you be surprised to know that, once people realize that they cannot present themselves as godparents, they sometimes do whatever necessary to get themselves into the ceremony as sponsors nevertheless? Yes, parishes received forged documents from prospective sponsors; maybe not regularly, but more often than you might guess. So, I’m guessing that the priest just wanted to ensure that this wasn’t the case of someone trying to pull the wool over their eyes… :sad_yes:


#12

gorgias, thank you for your detailed response.

I like the point you made about the “witness” position not being a “consolation prize” and also having the potential to cause scandal. that’s exactly what it would be - “here, you don’t practice, but we want you to feel included anyway, so just stand here and look nice while the other person pulls all the weight.” and you’re right, to everyone else it would appear as if the lapsed catholic were still being allowed to be a godparent. I was thinking only of the “for all practical purposes” reasons, which clearly aren’t the only ones at play here.

now I’m wondering about the “once catholic, always catholic” bit! if an individual is baptized (etc) as a child (and therefore without their consent), doesn’t that essentially remove the free will of being able to choose to be catholic in the first place? or am I thinking too much about this? :rolleyes:


#13

The parents make the act of faith and the decision for the child. Baptism cleanses us of original sin, incorporates us into the Body of Christ (i.e. the family of God), and gives us sanctifying grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a great gift our parents give us.

A child who is born into a family or adopted as an infant does not have a “choice” in the matter. They are a part of that family forevermore, whatever choices they make later. It cannot be ‘undone’.

Same with God’s family. The parents do their duty to bring the child into God’s family. Whatever choices they make later on about their relationship to God and his family is their own.


#14

1ke, I guess I’m just thinking of people who were baptized because that’s what grandma wanted, but were never actually raised catholic. maybe mom and dad left the catholic church to go to joe schmoe’s church of christ instead, so the kids grow up as good little protestants, never knowing that a catholic baptism means they’re automatically catholic in the eyes of the church. maybe they don’t even know it was a catholic baptism. it just seems rather unfair that they are automatically excluded from acting as a christian witness because of a decision their parents made.

I don’t know anyone in this situation, and maybe people like this don’t actually exist, but if they do, it seems that the only option for them would be to have to become catholic, otherwise the church forever sees them as heretics/schismatics/whatever the proper term is, whereas if they had been baptized into joe schmoe’s church of christ instead, there wouldn’t be an issue.

(I really do think I’m overthinking this, not to mention dragging it way off topic! especially after gorgias pointed out the consolation prize and scandal issues, because I’m sure the vast majority of people who are lapsed have chosen of their own accord to not follow the church. I appreciate your insight, and am quite glad you chose to comment on my thread :thumbsup:)


#15

When people are far removed from family, they can use a proxy for the Sponsor who lives in another state or country.


#16

You’re welcome! Thanks for your kind comments!!! :smiley:

now I’m wondering about the “once catholic, always catholic” bit!

I agree – this is a really important thing to think about!

if an individual is baptized (etc) as a child (and therefore without their consent), doesn’t that essentially remove the free will of being able to choose to be catholic in the first place?

I don’t think that this is a ‘free will’ issue. Here’s the way that I explain it, when I’m asked: as Catholics, we assert that we have the ‘fullness of the truth’. If that’s the case, then it stands to reason that any person – if they’re open to the truth – will accept that truth.

Now, let me ask you: who is least affected by the ways that life warps our ability to be open to the truth of Christ… than a child? If that’s the case – even if their intellects aren’t developed in the ways that adults’ are – aren’t childrens’ wills most able to accept Christ? And if so, aren’t they – even if they can’t express their wills as we might, in words – most fully able to accept Christ and His offer of salvation?

If this is the case (which, I think, it is!), then doesn’t infant baptism represent a more complete affirmation of ‘free will’ than any other? Doesn’t it expressly manifest – rather than remove – free will?

or am I thinking too much about this? :rolleyes:

Nope… not at all! Among our non-Catholic Christian brethren, there’s a certain implicit (and, to tell the truth, often explicit) requirement that baptism be something that an individual explicitly requests. I think that’s something that isn’t indicated by the Scriptures. Is the baptism of John something that requires explicit personal assent? Absolutely! It’s a baptism of repentance. It’s a baptism that asks a person to stand up and give public witness that he is making a change in his life.

But… the baptism of Jesus isn’t the baptism of John – the witness of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles makes that clear. The baptism of Jesus is grace – it is a gift from God! – and therefore, it is something that is freely given by God. Does a kid stand up and ask Aunt Mildred to give him a funky scarf as his Christmas gift? Of course not. Does Aunt Mildred freely give him that gift, nevertheless? Of course! Can her nephew freely reject that gift, on Christmas or later? Of course.

So, how can we understand the sacrament of baptism? In a way, it’s that gift of a funky Christmas scarf from Aunt Mildred: as a teen, we might reject it, but as an adult, we’d realize that it’s not a scarf, but an expression of the care of a beloved family member. As a baby, would we reject Aunt Mildred? Of course not. Would Aunt Mildred’s gifts be some sort of ‘impingement’ on our free will? Of course not.

(Let’s be fair, though – would our later rejection of Aunt Mildred be evidence that she took away our free will by offering us a funky scarf? Of course not. It would just be evidence of the fact that, the scarf – freely offered – had been rejected. It wouldn’t mean that the scarf no longer existed; just that it had been tossed aside.)

So, does one really choose to be ‘Catholic’? No… not really. One desires to live in Christ’s love, as fully as possible. That’s a desire that exists from the very moment that one’s life begins… even if he isn’t able to express it in ways that adults can express it. Infant baptism isn’t a baptism that defies consent… it’s a baptism that affirms the basic nature of humanity, which seeks union with God. :wink:


#17

Canon law addresses this. In such a circumstance, the pastor cannot baptize the child unless there is a *well founded *hope the child will be raised Catholic. That is why interviews, preparation classes, and such exist. The pastor has an obligation to personally know the situation and make the determination that the baptism can proceed. And the parents have to fully know their obligations and agree to them before baptism can take place.


#18

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