ASK FATHER: Can’t find a confirmed godparent within the family

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

My wife and I are going to have our third child in November. We are having a hard time finding someone in the family to be our child’s Godparents when we baptize him/her.

THE PROBLEM

Our main problem is basically that since the Church sets out that Godparents must have been Confirmed to be able to serve as a child’s baptismal Godparent, we have no close relatives to turn to.

Each of our first two boys had only one Confirmed relative as Godparent and the second one had to serve/sign as a mere witness – because they were not Confirmed.

What we are facing now is that all of our remaining closest relatives (brothers, sisters, cousins) – are not Confirmed.

(And both of us have large families (20 plus), almost all educated in Catholic schools!)

Hence,

THE QUESTIONS

1. Opting FOR having someone

Question A: if we choose the relatives we are closest to (who are NOT Confirmed) ¿how bad is it for our child to have mere Baptismal witnesses and no Godparents?

(Complicated) Question B: ¿how bad is it for us parents and child if we “fish” for a priest (and there are many where we live in Portugal) who – against Church teachings – does not consider prior Confirmation a necessary requisit for someone to be Godparent?

1. Opting AGAINST having anyone

– Question A: is this really an option?

– Question B: if it is – how bad is it for a child not to have witnesses or Godparents?

Complicated way to place the question.  I think I got that.

Having a godparent is important for baptism, not for validity, but for liceity.

Why not have the same relatives who served as godparents for the first two serve as godparents for the third (fourth, fifth, six, and seventh when they come along, too!)?

There’s nothing that limits the number of times one can serve as a godparent.

Additionally, godparents need not come from one’s blood relations. Friends, fellow parishioners, and so forth all can serve as godparents.

If it’s the custom that sponsors come from your family and family members question why neighbor Paolo is godfather this time instead of a relative, consider the reply:

“Because, apparently, no one in the family considers the Faith important enough to get confirmed.”

Blood may be thicker than water, but faith in Our Lord and the Church He founded is thicker than both.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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17 Responses to ASK FATHER: Can’t find a confirmed godparent within the family

  1. anilwang says:

    Even if it’s impossible for you to find someone available (e.g. you’re new in town, you know no-one and are not social, all your confirmed relatives are too far away, and any potential candidate has declined), you still have options. Many converts, especially from anti-Catholic families have exactly this problem, and parishes usually deal with this by having volunteers who are willing to be a God Parent. Why not ask your pastor if someone is willing to volunteer to be your kid’s God Parent?

  2. cathgrl says:

    This reminds me of a story about an Argentinean who, as a teen, successfully encouraged many of his fellow high school students to get confirmed. Why? He told them, “Because if you don’t, you can’t get married (in the Catholic Church)!”

    That wouldn’t work here in the United States, but that’s a different issue entirely. [Yes.]

  3. little women says:

    We intentionally, from the very beginning, chose the same couple to be the Godparents of all the children. This couple is also the same couple who will receive custody of our children should both of us pass away. Having this arrangement has been a tradition in my family and seems like the best way.

  4. all your confirmed relatives are too far away

    This is not an insurmountable obstacle since you could use a proxy to stand in for the actual godparent. (See Beal, et al., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, pg. 1061 commenting on Canon 872.)

  5. Father Flores says:

    I think in Central/South American culture, godparents are still thought of as ones who legally have a claim to custody of the child if something should happen to the parents.

  6. JoAnna says:

    My husband and I are both Catholic converts so we don’t have many options for godparents among family members either.

    We chose my husband’s best friend and his wife as godparents for #1, as they were the catalyst for our conversion to Catholicism. They live several states away but they still send her gifts and keep tabs on how she is doing.

    We chose my sister and her husband as godparents for our 2nd & 3rd kids, and I regret that now. My sister was raised Lutheran, like me, but converted to Catholicism shortly before marrying her cradle-Catholic husband. I’m not sure about my BIL as he’s rather quiet, but my sister has since loudly and publicly condoned abortion and gay marriage. :( We live several states away but even so they do not act as godparents should – no cards or anything, not even on Christmas or birthdays or baptism anniversaries.

    For babies #4 and #5, we chose close friends in our city whom we knew were practicing, faithful Catholics as godparents, and they have been wonderful. We are choosing good friends as godparents for #6, due in December, as well.

  7. John Grammaticus says:

    Do godparent’s have to be blood relatives? I don’t have any practising Catholics in the family so I asked a Monk with whom I’m very close to be my Godfather. He was delighted !!

  8. Bea says:

    “Blood may be thicker than water, but faith in Our Lord and the Church He founded is thicker than both.”

    Loved that! That’s a quotable quote, Father.
    Too many sacraments have been placed in importance on social/family standards and the true meaning has been shunted aside.

  9. thefeds says:

    Without trying to “game the system” could they have a non-confirmed relative stand as proxy for one who has been confirmed?

  10. roma247 says:

    I must chime in with my two cents on this subject, because though I have not experienced quite the same problem as the initial poster, I think my experience may help someone reading this thread.

    First, I only have one brother and one sister. My husband has only brothers, and only one is married. So we definitely had to recycle a lot with our six children.

    For our fifth child, we decided to try something new, and asked a couple we were very close to and thought were wonderful examples of Catholicism to be her Godparents.

    Two years later, that couple shocked us by first separating, then divorcing and both moving away. We have never heard from him since, and now that she has finally healed and managed to obtain an annulment and remarry happily, we don’t hear from her much either. So our daughter has Godparents, but neither is at all a part of her life and certainly would be unable to fulfill their role should they be called upon to do so.

    So while it gets old to recycle godparents, I would say the most important consideration, based on this experience, is that you really, really know who you are asking and are truly certain that you will have a long-lasting relationship with them.

    Or…just stick to family.

  11. Worm-120 says:

    I believe my mother was in the habit of asking the random rosary wielding little old lady at the back of the church, an approach that got all six of us at least one godparent.

  12. Giuseppe says:

    This problem might become more common in the US. Has anyone read the Pew Research Center’s latest data on US religious numbers?
    http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

    Or some of the analyses of trends (conversion, loss of membership, and fertility)?
    http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/evangelical-protestants-are-the-biggest-winners-when-people-change-faiths/

    (This comes from a site founded by Nate Silver, so take it with a grain of salt; on the other hand, some of their sports data analysis is excellent.)

  13. Sliwka says:

    I believe the phrase “blood is thicker than water” originated as a way of saying the blood on the battlefield was thicker than the water of familial relations. This is an interestingly close approximation where the blood of the faith has to be thicker than family relations.

    But I stand to be corrected

  14. arickett says:

    Why do the God parents need to be relatives, I am god parent to a number of children and not related to any of them and if we are blessed the list of possible godparents for the young person does not include eithier family.

    Godparents need to 1) likely to be around 2) strong in faith and knowledgeable and I like to consider the old role of the godparents to take over raising the children if something happens to you as it helps to rule.people in and out.

  15. Michael in NoVA says:

    It’s not at all required for godparents to be family members! The only family member who is a godparent to one of our five is a Dominican priest. The others are all couples we know who have shown dedication and devotion to the faith and whom we believe would be good spiritual guides and advocates to our daughters.

    We help teach the baptism class at our parish. We emphasize (and it’s even in the script given to all of the teaching couples) that when choosing godparent(s), what matters it not how close they are biologically to the child but how close they are to Christ.

    I know that the requester may have some familial expectations regarding who gets to be godparent next. However, perhaps this is a case where charitable witness can be given to the faith, and evangelization to your own family could lead some of them to strengthen their own ties to the Church.

  16. Mandy P. says:

    I’m a relatively recent convert and when I made my profession of faith (Confirmation for the already baptized) I wanted my children to be baptized into the church at the same time. My parish was happy to oblige, of course. At the time I only knew one Catholic really well enough to be comfortable asking her to be a godparent, and I have only one relative that is Catholic (a female cousin by marriage). Otherwise I didn’t have too many Catholics that I even knew, much less well enough to ask them to be a godparent for my children.

    I was told by my parish priest, who is also a canon lawyer, that while it is alright for each child to have a Godparent that it not a confirmed Catholic, technically that person isn’t really a Godparent but a Christian witness, and that each child must have a minimum of one confirmed Catholic as Godparent. I am assuming that’s correct. Of course, the idea is that the godparent is supposed to remain involved in the child’s life and upbringing and **make sure** the child is being raised to be a faithful Catholic. That’s the entire point, which is why it’s kind of important that your children have at least one godparent that is a confirmed (and hopefully faithful) Catholic.

    So each of my children has their own godmother (my son’s is my Catholic cousin and my daughter’s is that Catholic friend)- who have both been wonderful- and their “godfathers” are a baptized Christian cousin and a baptized Christian who is a close friend of my husband’s. I understand that technically they’re not really godfathers, just witnesses to the baptism, but they are very supportive and don’t negatively interfere in the kids’ Catholic upbringing, so we treat them as if they are their actual godfathers.

    Anyway, the key takeaway here, and Father please feel free to correct me if it’s wrong, is that one godparent MUST be a confirmed Catholic and in the eyes of the Church any non-Catholic Christian present at baptism is only a witness and not a godparent, regardless of your intent to have them as one.

  17. defreitas says:

    I’m Portuguese and I am the Godfather for all of my two sister’s children. There were other brothers-in-law but most had some hindrance or another. Get good pious people for your child’s Godparent, and add the least objectionable relative as a witness, (the kids can always be taught to respectfully call them Padrinho or Madrinha). Its amazing that you have so few confirmed relatives, comparatively I couldn’t even begin to think how that is possible.