ASK FATHER: Can a godparent marry a godchild? Confirmation sponsor a confirmand?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Are spiritual relationships hindrances to marriages? For example, can a confirmand marry their sponsor? Can the children of godparents marry the godparents’ godchild?

An excellent question.

St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of spiritual affinity and the impediment it created in Question 56 of the supplement to the Summa Theologica.

The relationship between godparents and their godchildren is referred to as a relationship of “spiritual affinity.”

Spiritual affinity also occurs between the minister of baptism (who could be a lay person) and the one baptized. It is not the same as consanguinity (the relationship arising from sharing a bloodline) or simple affinity (the relationship that arises by way of marriage), but it is a relationship nonetheless.

In the Latin Church, until the 1983 Code took effect on 27 November 1983, spiritual affinity did create an impediment to marriage. Godparents could not marry their godchildren. A baptizer could not marry a baptizee.  However, the relationship of a confirmation sponsor to the confirmand is not the same as that of a godparent to godchild, so the impediment of spiritual affinity did not arise.

The Church understands the impediment of spiritual affinity to be ecclesiastical law, not divine law. Therefore, a dispensation from this impediment could be given, and the law could be changed.  In fact, the Church did change the law for the Western Church with the 1983 Code.  Spiritual affinity is no longer an impediment for Latin Catholics.

The Eastern Church, however, have retained it. Can 811 of the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches states in paragraph 1, “From baptism there arises a spiritual relationship between a sponsor and the baptized person and the parents of the same that invalidated marriage.” Paragraph 2 explains that the relationship of spiritual affinity does not arise with the sponsor used in a conditional baptism. Thus, for Eastern Catholics the impediment exists not just between the baptized and his godparents, but also between the godparents and the parents of the one baptized.

The fact that spiritual affinity is no longer an impediment to marriage in the Latin Church does not mean that it should not be taken into consideration.

Not infrequently, when an unbaptized spouse wants to become Catholic, the Catholic spouse wants to serve as a sponsor. This is no longer prohibited, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

The relationship between a godparent and a godchild is of a different category than between spouses.

Similarly, a confirmation sponsor has a different role than a spouse. There may be cases where this would be appropriate.

Since the Church no longer calls it an impediment in the Latin Church, people should be free to make these choices, but some caution should be taken.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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7 Responses to ASK FATHER: Can a godparent marry a godchild? Confirmation sponsor a confirmand?

  1. pelerin says:

    Sadly families seem to be getting more and more complicated these days. The godfather of one of my grandchildren is now his step father.

  2. Michael says:

    The impediment between the godparent and the parents of the child is an interesting one. I wonder if it was intended to maintain a certain independence between the spiritual guidance of the parent and the spiritual guidance of the godparent?

  3. Federico says:

    @Fr. Z.: “Since the Church no longer calls it an impediment in the Latin Church, people should be free to make these choices, but some caution should be taken.”

    I met a woman in college who asked me about the Catholic Church (she knew I was Catholic). She told me that she was raised a atheist but felt God had been calling her for years. She told me that when she finally stepped into a Catholic church she heard God say “Welcome! I’m glad you’re finally here to see me!” She had a natural understanding of the Real Presence.

    I took her to meet a priest who introduced her to the Church and she completed the RCIA program on a 1-1 basis with this good priest. She was baptized, confirmed, and received the Eucharist on that year’s Easter Vigil. I was her Godfather.

    We dated and we married; this was 1986 so no impediment was in place to us.

    I would say it’s been great. Our relationship was built on an understanding of a common goal (getting to heaven). We are each other’s guides to heave and, in that sense, each other’s spiritual directors. This relationship is clearly strengthened by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony.

    Anecdotes are not data, but based on my experience I would argue that when a relationship is based on the right spiritual grounding, there is only value in having the role of a Godfather (guide the Godchild to God) strengthened by a special grace and bond of a sacrament.

    By the way, the priest who brought my wife into the Church also baptized my first child and, last year, witnessed her marriage to a fine young Catholic man…..he’s a great priest and we’re grateful he’s a family friend.

  4. CJ says:

    Here’s a story that Peter Kreeft told me in class one time (and I’m sure he’s written about it and/or spoken of it elsewhere).

    As many of you may already know, Kreeft was raised Calvinist. He converted to Catholicism while a student at Yale. One day, he knocked on the rectory of the Catholic parish near the university, and he told the priest, “I want to become Catholic.” Since it was the late ’50s/early ’60s, the priest said to him, “Who’s the girl?” Unlike many converts at the time, Kreeft wasn’t looking to convert in order to marry a Catholic girl; instead, he had realized through his studies that Catholicism is true and, being the brilliant and honest philosopher that he is, thus felt compelled to become Catholic. The young woman who was his godmother at his baptism is now his wife. They’ve been happily married for decades.

  5. JesusFreak84 says:

    Here’s another Canonical quagmire about which this makes me wonder: can a Latin Rite Catholic be a godparent/sponsor for someone entering an Eastern Rite? What about visa-versa? And what, then, of impediments? Would the Rite of the one receiving the Sacraments “trump?”

  6. Aryl says:

    JesusFreak84:
    A Latin Rite Catholic can be a godparent/sponsor for someone entering an Eastern Rite and vice versa. It happens frequently at my Eastern Rite parish, as it is the only Eastern Rite in the state which is heavily populated by Latins.

    In a sense, the Rite with the stricter canon law would be held over the Rite with a more lax canon law. For example, when I entered into the Church via an Eastern Rite, my then fiance, a Latin Rite Catholic, asked to be my sponsor. My priest said it was not allowable if we intended to marry each other because the spiritual bond that would have been formed would be an impediment to our marriage. She was surprised because she knew many people (all Latin Rite Catholics) who were sponsors for people who became their spouse.

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Meanwhile,

    on the ‘consanguinity’ front (though a clearer, more detailed report would be welcome):

    http://nypost.com/2014/10/29/new-york-state-blesses-incest-marriage-between-uncle-niece/