From a reader…
Would you please comment on why the tradition (at least the 1917 code) was reluctant to permit clerics and religious to be Godparents? Any comment on it being done under the new code?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE – Fr. Tim Ferguson:
Prior to the 1983 Code, a priest could only serve as a godfather in a case of necessity and even then, only with the permission of the bishop.
The role of godparent was traditionally seen not only as an official witness to the baptismal act, but also as someone who would assist the parents in raising the children in the faith and, God forfend, step into the parental role if something should happen to the parents.
It’s clear why, until recently, a priest would not ordinarily take on such a role.
Now, canon law has de-emphasized the role of the godparent in providing direct, material assistance to the parents, and does not foresee that the godparents would take on direct parental roles upon the death of the parents.
The role of the baptismal sponsor is to witness the act, and to provide spiritual assistance to the baptized.
While it is now permissible for a priest to serve as a godparent, I think it is a worthwhile question to ask if it’s a good idea.
Does the priestly role mix well with the role of a godfather, or is a priest already serving as a spiritual father to his people? Just as biological parents cannot serve as baptismal sponsors, because their role as parents is already significant, is the role the priest serves one that might make serving as a godfather superfluous?
Now, it’s not forbidden by the Church, and, quod non prohibetur, licet. I’m sure there are a myriad of commentators who will cite situations where a priest has been marvelous as a godparent. There are also countless cases where a man serves as a godfather and then later is ordained. I still think it’s a worthwhile question to ask.