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…!
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”.