ASK FATHER: Godparents must be confirmed, married properly

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I have been asked to be my nieces godmother but I have to make my confirmation. The lady at the church [?] told me I can not do so until I have my marriage convalidated by the church. I have talked to several people and they find that odd. My husband (who is Methodist) is going to be the godfather is weary about it finds it extremely odd as well. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

I’m not sure who the “lady at the church” is – and sometimes these nameless and titleless people can have some odd ideas –  but here, the lady at the church seems to be right on point.

If one is Catholic, one is bound to have one’s marriage celebrated in the Church.  This is not just a matter of canon law, though that it important.  This is a matter of following the Church’s teachings on marriage.  We must also attend to the traditional Precepts or Commandments of the Church.

To be a confirmation sponsor, one must be a baptized and a confirmed Catholic in good standing. That only makes sense. How can one be a source of encouragement and guidance to the Catholic life for neophytes if one is not fully living a Catholic life oneself?

Getting your marriage convalidated (which is not just getting the marriage “blessed”, for you’ll be instructed and asked to place a new act of consent as you are entering into something new) will allow you to return to the reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion.

I presume that you’ve been informed that if your marriage is not recognized by the Church, you are not able to receive the sacraments.

If one wanted to be a godparent, one would similarly want to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and have one’s marriage celebrated in the Church as well.

Do not fall into the trap of seeing any of this as a “burden” or a “hoop” to jump through.    This all makes perfectly good sense.

Another quick point: your husband, who is not Catholic, will technically not be a godparent, but a “Christian witness” to the baptism. Only those who are fully initiated Catholics can serve as godparents.  A godparent is there to serve as a guide for the child in the Catholic life. Only those who are living the Catholic life can provide that service.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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35 Responses to ASK FATHER: Godparents must be confirmed, married properly

  1. Sonshine135 says:

    I learn something new just about every day that I come here. I was not aware that a Non-Catholic is technically not a Godparent. I am often bothered by the fact that my wife and I did not, in many cases, pick out good Godparents for our children. Finding a person who has the depth of catechisis you really want your child to learn from can be extremely difficult. All the more reason to go to a church that has a very strong catechetical program, adheres to rubrics, and exposes people to the true depth of the faith.

  2. Priam1184 says:

    Ok the bit about the “Christian witness” explains something that has had me confused for my entire life: the fact that the man I have known as my “godfather” for my entire life is actually a Lutheran. So I went back and checked my baptismal certificate and he is listed as a “witness.” Thank you for clearing that up Father.

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Indeed, “Christian witness” is an ersatz office. It has no duties. See my 2008 CLSA Advisory Opinions, “Responsibilities of Christian witness at baptism” (94-95).

  4. Spade says:

    On the “good standing” part, oh man, are some members of my family going to be upset when my wife and I have kids. I’ve already started thinking about how I’m going to talk my mother down off the ceiling when neither of my sisters makes the cut.

  5. frjim4321 says:

    This is a very neuralgic area issue for those of us in pastoral ministry.

  6. Mike says:

    You are brave to step into this firestorm, Father. I can just envision the hate bombs pouring in (“Who are YOU to hold godparents and sponsors responsible for setting a good example in the Faith!?”) followed shortly thereafter by “Catholic” marches orchestrated carefully for the mainstream media. St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.

  7. DavidJ says:

    It is still a painful point for me that one of my children’s godfather is not living up to his promises and is not providing a good example, to the point where I would find it hard to actually have him around his goddaughter.

  8. acardnal says:

    Fr Z, in the third paragraph you begin with “To be a confirmation sponsor . . . .” Did you mean to say confirmation or baptismal?

  9. majuscule says:

    At the last baptism in my immediate family I was the only person to bring a religious gift. The child was showered with items that could have been birthday or (secular) Christmas presents. The godparents…well, I have no real knowledge of the states of their souls so I will say nothing. As far as I know this child has never attended Mass and his younger sister was never baptized.

    Now when I was a child…back in the day…I was told that my godmother was there to see that I grew up in the faith in case something happened to my parents. She was also my mom’s best friend from childhood and I called her “aunt”. Although after she was widowed she went on to marry a divorced man, I know she would have followed through in her godparently duties had the need arisen.

    Sigh. I am reminded of the full church we had on Easter Sunday. Where are those people on other Sundays and how many of them are godparents?

  10. Art says:

    The Orthodox Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II has an interesting solution to this problem: become the child’s godfather himself! Perhaps Catholic bishops can offer this option?

  11. LeeF says:

    @majuscule who asked:
    “Sigh. I am reminded of the full church we had on Easter Sunday. Where are those people on other Sundays and how many of them are godparents?”

    That is a good question, and while on the surface may seem off-topic, it is not. People who show up on special occasions/feasts like Christmas, Easter, marriage, funeral, baptism and confirmation, but virtually at no other time (i.e. “Christmas/Easter catholics”), view many of these occasions as rights of passage or lingering cultural bonds, weak as they are. Our Church is not alone in this phenomenon, as witness Jews who keep kosher and attend synagogue on principal feasts, bar-mitzvahs and such, but not otherwise. A similar phenomenon is that of families with children in the parish school who seem very active in the parish by volunteering for all events, but then seem to disappear once the last child has graduated.

    This stems from poor catechetical formation and a refusal to believe in the real possibility of hell (contra to the papal resident Capuchin’s recent remarks reviving discussion of “no-hell” possibilities).

    Back in the day, pastors used to be concerned for the immortal spiritual welfare of their flocks and seek to admonish and encourage such semi-lapsed catholics to return to regular attendance at Mass. To me, the benchmark for same is the number of parishioners attending Mass on holy days. If priests would heed the call Fr. Z (and Pope Francis) to be more generous in hearing confessions (anonymous and regular instead of “by appointment”) and imparting formation in the need for same, then the Mass attendance problem would solve itself. And Christmas/Easter/marriage/funeral/baptism/confirmation are just the occasions to beat that drum loudly.

  12. HobokenZephyr says:

    @frjim4321: trust me, it doesn’t get any less painful after the sacrament has been completed and the family leaves the friendly confines of the church. My wife’s sister is a Christian witness to our oldest son’s Baptism, but her mother continues to refer to her as his “Godmother.” I see no reason to make the distinction clearer if you know what I mean. His Godfather is the one we’re counting on if something happens to us, and he’s a priest so I think we’re on pretty solid ground there.

  13. Dundonianski says:

    This is sadly an example of the diabolical disorientation confronting Catholicism and (dire) catacheses extant today. How sad that there should be such bewilderment at what was clearly understood pre Vatican 11. I recall with great clarity a certain teacher (Sister of Mercy) clarifying this very issue in the 1950s. Perhaps growing up in a Presbyterian country honed our appreciation of Catholic values!

  14. Fr. Hamilton says:

    In priestly ministry I find difficulty all the time in dealing with proposed candidates for role of Godparent. No matter how clearly I state that a Godparent is a public office/role in the Catholic Church that can only be filled by a fully initiated and fully practicing Catholic I am still presented with invalid candidates. When I confront the matter the response from the parent of the child to be baptized usually amounts to, “But he’s my brother!” Familial blood bond does not provide requisite example of Catholic faith.

    I also do not understand the allowance in universal Church law for the non-Catholic to be a “Christian witness.” What I find is that the distinction is totally lost on most all laity. They speak of the “Christian Witness” as a “non-Catholic Godparent.” The Church is in fact saying the non-Catholic is not a Godparent. In my parish I direct people away from the Christian Witness routine and I generally do not permit it unless there are exceptional circumstances or if folks get hostile with me over it. In those cases I inform the parents of the child to be baptized that the Christian Witness simply observes the rite, he/she is not a Godparent, is not addressed in the ritual when Godparents are asked questions, and is not listed on the certificate or in the parish sacramental register. I think the notion of the baptismal Christian Witness should be removed from Canon Law. We do not have reliable enough formation in the Church these days to permit anything but the most solid of Catholic witness for those who are baptized.

  15. LeeF says:

    Another comment I would like to make is that priests might wish to consider two items in the gospels regarding these types of matters. That of the Jews who rejected the Gospel after which it was preached to the gentiles, and secondly the parable of the wedding where those invited did not come, after which servants were sent to invite anyone they could find.

    Stop pandering to cultural Catholics who have rejected the call of Gospel and Church teaching, and instead pastor those who heed the call in its fullness, and then go out and seek new coverts who will also heed that call.

  16. LarryW2LJ says:

    I recently joined one of the teams in our Parish that meets with and teaches about sponsorship to new parents, and potential Godparents and Confirmation sponsors. In one class, we had one gentlemen who was informed that he didn’t meet the requirements as he was never confirmed. Not that it would change things as far as his eligibility to become a Godparent in time, but for his own sake, he decided to join the RCIA program so that he will complete his Rites of Initiation into the Church.

  17. Bedens says:

    I’ve never understood how Michael Corleone made the cut. ;)

  18. Kensington says:

    “I’ve never understood how Michael Corleone made the cut. ;)”
    ==============

    He made them an offer…ah, you know the rest. ;)

  19. HeatherPA says:

    @Spade-
    I completely understand the familial pressure to have siblings be godparents, even if they haven’t darkened the door of a Church since their Confirmation. My brother and sister are my oldest two children’s godparents, in much due to us being young parents with bad catechisms and no firm priestly direction at the time, and my mother’s vehement insistence. To date, the priest who baptized them is no longer in the priesthood, he is a real estate agent, my brother is a Freemason who dabbles in Buddhism and reveres Wayne Dyer and my sister hasn’t been to Mass outside of funerals since 1995.

  20. Vecchio di Londra says:

    The actual contact (with, apparently, a parish secretary? – and although we do not know, maybe just a phone call?) doesn’t seem the right way for this enquirer to be helped. If she is unconfirmed, living in a marriage unvalidated by the Church, and excluded from Holy Communion – I would hope that such a person making enquiries – and obviously interested enough to be concerned – would be referred immediately to the parish priest so he can use his pastoral skills to help and advise her. This baptism invitation might well be God’s way of tapping her on the shoulder and bringing her back into the Catholic communion. A ‘lady at the church’ (unless it’s Our Blessed Lady :-) answering a technical-legal question, cannot provide that pastoral support – and might even put off the enquirer from further questions, even though it seems the ‘lady’ has correctly outlined the church’s position about godparents.
    For there are two immortal souls at issue here. That of the child to be baptised (who needs faithful and orthodox godparents) and that of the enquirer (who needs more counsel).

  21. capchoirgirl says:

    I’m godmother to one of my younger cousins, and I take it *very* seriously. My own godmother didn’t do much except send me birthday cards!

  22. texsain says:

    A few years back when I was the confirmation director of a parish I no longer attend, I had a girl who told me her confirmation sponsor was going to be Woman X. It came out that this woman was in the adult confirmation program, and scheduled to be confirmed on the same day. I told my student that this was not acceptable, and to find another sponsor. She didn’t find one, so I told her I’d be her sponsor for her.

    At the last minute, literally as the kids were walking down the aisle, she told me that the DRE, a nun, had approved Woman X to be her sponsor, “as long as she was confirmed first.” I quickly confirmed that the DRE said this, but it was literally too late to protest this or ask the bishop. That was the deciding factor in me leaving that parish.

    Fr. Z, I have a question to you. It seems to me that what the sister did was technically permissible, but definitely against the purpose (or dare I say “spirit”) of the law, not to mention disrespectful to me as the confirmation director, and improper in many other ways. Am I correct in that, or was it entirely impermissible?

  23. sunbreak says:

    Interesting stuff. It seems, though, like some parishes aren’t necessarily paying attention to the requirements. A few years ago, my sister, who hasn’t been a practicing Catholic since she was confirmed in 4th grade, was asked to be godmother for a cousin’s child. The child’s parents aren’t really practicing Catholics either so I guess the baptism was all done for show.

  24. Imrahil says:

    Whatever the purpose was, sanctifying grace and the character have been conferred, the child has been buried with Christ to live with Him who has risen.

    Excluding people who don’t fulfil the formal conditions is one thing, estimating if they are good Catholics enough is quite another for the pastor. For godparents that is. As for the child, it has to be baptized if the parents with for it and there is hope that it be educated in the Faith, whether by parents, teachers of religion, pastor, godparent or whomever. It would be obliging for the parents to do so, but it is no reason to not baptize if they won’t in case there is hope that this education will be done by someone else.

  25. Imrahil says:

    And of course, there is no simple dichotomy between the practicing Catholics and the, if you get my meaning, “practicing non-Catholics”.

    There is a very common species of people who appear in Church for Easter and Christmas, at least watch the procession on Corpus Christi (while they could care more about the doctrine of Transsubstantiation), pay their Church tax, “leave theology to the theologians” (as they would put it) think that after all there’s something to religion, and God-beware! they are not atheists… They obviously have a lot of errors and objective sins, but I do think their children should be baptized.

  26. jbas says:

    While good catechesis is important, it seems to me that cradle Catholics often blame poor catechesis for whatever areas of ignorance they experience in Church life, including this issue of godparents. At some point, adult Catholics must accept personal responsibility for learning the Faith and the practices of faith. The universal catechism and the Bible are available online, as is the Code.

  27. texsain, your parochial problem is one of the best arguments I can see for having the parish priest in charge of all formation for the Sacraments in the parish, and with the last word on everything.

    You were ‘confirmation director’, but there was also a ‘DRE’. Neither of these ‘offices’ has any authority, and nor should they. The final decision should be the parish priest’s. He should be responsible for presenting the kids to the bishop; it’s his parish, after all.

    Easier said than done, I know, but it would be nice if a few more priests grew a spine and were prepared to be disliked by the majority (and to have less spare time), in order to take back their legitimate authority in a parish?

  28. LarryW2LJ says:

    Philippa,

    Spot on! And in fact, if memory serves me properly, there is a point in the Confirmation ceremony where the Pastor (or Parish Priest) has to attest to the Bishop that the Confirmandi have been properly instructed and formed, and are ready to receive the Sacrament.

    I would hope that all Pastor’s (or priests) are involved enough in the process so that they are answering to the Bishop based on first hand knowledge rather than “taking someone’s word for it”.

    I know, I know …… our Priests are stretched so thin these days. But Confirmation is the last Sacrament of Initiation after all, so it is very important. In our Parish, we are blessed that our Pastor attends the Confirmation retreats for our Confirmandi, and is very involved in the preparation process. That said, we have only two priests – the Pastor and one associate and we have over 2,000 families in our parish, so his involvement despite lack of manpower seems to indicate to me how highly he regards this.

  29. Catholic Student-at-Law says:

    Any advice for the other way? My husband and I know how important a good godparent is. However, with our first we bent to family pressure and asked a brother, who while baptized and confirmed, does not attend mass to be the god parent.

    We are expecting our second, and have no idea who to ask. We want a solid godparent for this child, but no one in either family is appropriate, and all of the friends who would be live a long distance away (we recently moved). We don’t know anyone at our new parish well enough to feel comfortable asking.

    Any suggestions? Thanks.

  30. Mike says:

    We don’t know anyone at our new parish well enough to feel comfortable asking.

    I’d start with the parish secretary, and follow up with the pastor if needed. If that didn’t work, I’d repeat at a neighboring parish. This can’t be an uncommon situation.

  31. Heather F says:

    Texsain, I’m just curious why this was in and of itself an absolutely inappropriate situation? I know a similar situation – a woman who due to moving from one area that did confirmations in one grade to another that did them in another ended up missing her confirmation. Being a teenager at the time she did not pay too much attention, and it never occurred to people that she would have missed it since she had always been a practicing Catholic, until she wanted to be an RCIA sponsor for someone and it was finally noticed that she had never received her final sacrament of initiation herself. So, with the blessing of the pastor, she ended up being both confirmand and sponsor the same year (receiving her confirmation a little bit prior to Easter).

  32. Pingback: ASK FATHER: Spouse unwilling to seek convalidation of marriage. | Perfect Your Lifestyle

  33. Mike says:

    “At some point, adult Catholics must accept personal responsibility for learning the Faith and the practices of faith. . . .”

    Indeed. And we must act on what we learn, not letting ourselves be discouraged by the seeming indifference of some (admittedly overworked) parish priests; nor by the hostility of “progressives” in the pews who all too frequently are running those priests’ parishes — or act as if they are.

    Easier said than done, but the alternative is resentment, alienation, and isolation, which plays right into Satan’s hands. Never think that you are the lone cell in the Mystical Body of Christ.

  34. C N says:

    @Catholic Student-at-Law:

    My husband and I are currently having the same issue with #3 just around the corner. My friend who originally started bringing me to Mass, and played a big role in my conversion, just got married. All we know about her husband is that he has a solid Catholic faith, otherwise he’s essentially a stranger. We threw around the idea of asking my brother but he’s not Catholic…

    For our second child though, we chose Godparents who we knew would be good witnesses to the Catholic faith. We all knew each other from college, but we live in Wisconsin, they now live in New Hampshire.

    At the time we were told by a family member that we could get a proxy (stand-in) just for the baptism if the Godparents are unable to be there. We were going to have our first child’s Godparents be proxies just for the baptism before we knew whether our friends could make the trip from out east. Ask your priest about this though. I found a source that says a proxy is only allowed for medical emergency, and that using a proxy just because the Godparent cannot attend is an abuse. (We didn’t know this at the time.)

  35. Panterina says:

    Question: Is it necessary to have a sponsor? Can a dispensation be had, or resort to just having a witness?
    I’m asking because, in this day and age, it’s harder and harder to have a relative/friend who’s a Catholic “in good standing” and meets all the canonical requirements. I’m running into this situation quite frequently in sacramental preparation for children and teens, not to mention RCIA.