QUAERITUR: Can I be godfather to child of a former-Catholic, now Orthodox?

From a reader:

A childhood friend of mine formerly a catholic “converted” to an Eastern Orthodox Church to get married. Now they are expecting their first child and have asked me to stand as sponsor for their child in their Eastern Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Antioch). I am firmly committed to my catholic faith and will never deny it. I wonder if it is permitted for me as a catholic to be the baby´s sponsor in the Eastern Orthodox Church?

I personally think is possible by virtue of what number 98 of The directory for the application of principles and norms on ecumenism of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity says:

“A Catholic is not forbidden to stand as godparent in an Eastern Orthodox Church, if he she is so invited.”

I am very sad and worried because I am a really close friend of him and he greatly appreciates me, at the moment I told him I was not sure if this was possible we both reacted very sadly.

Life is replete with choices we must make that make other people who have done something wrong feel sad.

While it is possible, as you indicate, a Catholic can stand as a godparent, your friend is a schismatic (cf. can. 751).

Under ordinary circumstances, there would be no problem for you, a Catholic, to serving as a sponsor at an Eastern Orthodox baptism.

In this case, since one of the parents is a Catholics in a state of schism, sponsoring their child’s baptism into the Orthodox Church would be tantamount to condoning the act of schism.

I suggest that you politely decline the honor they have offered. Perhaps you could find a legitimate activity* as an excuse.  Try something like

“Sorry, friend, but we’ve already volunteered to help the priest at our parish rebuild the altar rail that day!”


“Too bad, we are taking Sr. Trixie for a wimple-fitting.  She decided to try Catholicism for a change.”


“I think that, for our sins, we are supposed to take the altar boys Chuck-E-Cheese.”

Otherwise, to split the baby as it were, you could still attend the baptism. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages.  Would refusing to attend shut the door at a possible future reconciliation of the Catholic parent with the Catholic Church? Would attending send a signal to your friend and his family that you tacitly approve the schism?

Whether you attend or not, send a gift. A good idea might be a medal or icon of the child’s baptismal patron (blessed by a Catholic priest after you buy it).

In the meantime, pray for the currently cuddly little heathen, soon to be a cuddly little Christian… and their schismatic parents.

And pray for an end to our sad separation.


* Because some less than close-reading readers assumed that I recommended lying to get out of the baptism – I did NOT – I want to make a clarification.  I wrote “find a legitimate activity as an excuse”.  A legitimate activity.  Not some fiction or other.  Find something else that is legitimate to do at that time.

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  1. Actually the situation is double pronged. While the Roman Catholic Church does under certain conditions permit Eastern Orthodox Christians to receive some of the sacraments, there is no reciprocity that exists, except under very dire situations. The standard Orthodox discipline as to persons acting as a sponsor at Baptism or at a Marriage is that the person(s) must be Eastern Orthodox. I think that your friend acted prematurely in asking you to serve as a godparent, knowing that you would be unable to rear the child in our Faith without compromising your own conscience. This is the tragic result of our lack of Communion that exists today between our churches. Pray God that he will open up to us all the humility and perseverance to come to full unity

  2. Ezra says:

    I don’t really understand the canonical position. Even were both parents Orthodox by upbringing, how would it work for a Catholic to act as sponsor at an Eastern Orthodox baptism? Isn’t the sacrament, albeit valid and fruitful for the child until the age of reason, being conferred illegitimately? Aren’t the parents making manifest their intention to bring up the child to deny the filioque, papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception? How can a Catholic act as a sponsor to that?

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I agree that Catholic service here is within canon law. It’s the law I find in need of rethinking.

  4. Pedantic Classicist says:

    Hmm. I read #98 of the document that the inquirer cited (at the Vatican’s website), and now I’m just plain confused. It says:

    a) However, based on the common baptism and because of ties of blood or friendship, a baptized person who belongs to another ecclesial Community may be admitted as a witness to the baptism, but only together with a Catholic godparent.107 A Catholic may do the same for a person being baptized in another ecclesial Community.

    So, does this mean that a Catholic can be a godparent at even a Protestant baptism, so long as they are closely related to/good friends with the parents involved? I thought this was out-of-bounds. Canonists, help!!

  5. ContraMundum says:

    Please do not tell a “white lie” to get out of this situation. Just tell the truth. [I wish people would read what I actually write. I said “legitimate activity”. I will go back and add yet another phrase to the top entry.] The Orthodox that I know are serious enough to deal with a “disparity of cults” issue, and I think it is a better answer for why you can’t be a sponsor than a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese anyhow.

    Then you might give the child a family perpetual enrollment with the Capuchin Mission Mass Association or some other worthy association. Again, I think this would be appreciated by any Orthodox who understand their church as more than an ethnic club (a problem faced by some of our parishes, too).

    I see this schism as a problem that was caused by bishops and that can only be fixed by bishops. Thanks be to God, recent popes have made real progress towards ending it. I am totally confident that if he had the authority to do so, the Ecumenical Patriarch could come to an agreement with Pope Benedict; they both want this to happen. If he did, though, probably all that would happen would be the Russian Orthodox Church would schism from Constantinople. Probably neither side is quite healthy enough for a reunion, but the biggest problem is Orthodox disunity. Prayers are needed!

  6. rcg says:

    Tel the truth, for sure. Then remind the friend that he had to leave the Church and so, since they are different, you can’t act as a sponsor. The new wife should be able to help explain that since she is the reason the friend had to leave the Church. Finally, you could enlist the aid of the Orthodox preist who would able to explain it.

  7. NoTambourines says:

    I wonder how one might allude to the closest Eastern-Rite Catholic church to this denomination.

  8. ReginaMarie says:

    Pedantic Classicist: I think the difference here is serving as a godparent versus as a Christian witness for the Baptism. Additionally, in reference to ecclesial communities — while the Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox Church as a sister church (in the true sense of the word “church”), Protestant “churches” are recognized as Christian Communities, because they lack what truly constitutes being a “church” in the proper sense of the word.

    Hieromonk Gregory: Yes, we must pray for that full unity!! At our Eastern Catholic parish (we are not Roman Catholic, but we are Catholics in communion with Rome — I don’t believe the term “Roman” has always been used in reference to the Catholic Church), Orthodox Christians are permitted to receive the Eucharist (though I am not aware of any that do).

  9. Ezra says:

    the Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox Church as a sister church

    Not quite:

    The historical references presented in the preceding paragraphs illustrate the significance which the expression sister Churches has assumed in the ecumenical dialogue. This makes the correct theological use of the term even more important. In fact, in the proper sense, sister Churches are exclusively particular Churches (or groupings of particular Churches; for example, the Patriarchates or Metropolitan Provinces) among themselves. It must always be clear, when the expression sister Churches is used in this proper sense, that the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Universal Church is not sister but mother of all the particular Churches. One may also speak of sister Churches, in a proper sense, in reference to particular Catholic and non-Catholic Churches; thus the particular Church of Rome can also be called the sister of all other particular Churches. However, as recalled above, one cannot properly say that the Catholic Church is the sister of a particular Church or group of Churches. This is not merely a question of terminology, but above all of respecting a basic truth of the Catholic faith: that of the unicity of the Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is but a single Church, and therefore the plural term Churches can refer only to particular Churches.

  10. ReginaMarie says:

    Ezra: Thanks very much for pointing out that correction from the statement I was thinking of from the CDF. Yes, the proper way to think of it is the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church as the mother of all Churches. Still, The Orthodox can properly be called a church, while Protestantism doesn’t fall under this same category.

  11. mamajen says:

    I think some people are missing the important point that the parents of the baby are Catholics who left the Catholic church. Catholics cannot endorse that kind of thing. Even though our Church recognizes baptisms by other christian denominations as valid, there’s more at stake here. If the parents had never been Catholic, then the situation would be different.

  12. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Good points, folks. On Christian witness, an ersatz office, see E. Peters, “Canon 874.2: Responsibilities of Christian Witness at Baptism”, RRAO (CLSA, 2008) 94-95.

  13. pxs155 says:

    Father, I am not sure how edifying it would be, but since canons and praxis are covered here for the sake of the Catholic Church and its faithful, it might be useful and edifying, again, for the sake of the Catholic faithful, to post something in response to Heiromonk Gregory. Namely, that the mysteries–outside of baptism and chrismation/confirmation–within Orthodoxy are in almost every case strictly for the prepared Orthodox. The simplest way to find out if one’s situation qualifies as different would be to check with one’s own bishop first, as well as the bishop under whom’s omophorion you would be partaking of a sacrament. Our Catholic brethren must also remember that the Orthodox are not permitted to receive the sacraments within the Catholic Church in the same manner–except under true dire circumstances WHEN his own bishop and the bishop ultimately presiding over the sacrament are informed and have decided on such TOGETHER.

    Why is this possibly important to cover? Because when I see a Byzantine Catholic, for instance, go partake of the Chalice at an Orthodox parish, things can get quite messy in handling what just happened as far as scandals and who to inform, &c. The presbyter protects the faithful that are not prepared. That’s why Communion is closed, not because priests just dislike those outside of the Communion of the Church.

    Sorry for the rant, but maybe it could be mentioned at some point in the future. You know, after you look into it yourself and all that. It would be edifying, it would help avoid scandalous awkward moments, and it would maintain order and obedience.

  14. acroat says:

    Bravo for telling the truth. I have been in a similar situation with cousin’s children marring in non Catholic venues. The first I didn’t attend & said I had a cold & couldn’t attend (I was sick but felt guilty because I wouldn’t go without a cold either). The second time I told my cousin that I couldn’t go because I take my faith seriously & it wouldn’t be a sacramental marriage. She said she understood & are relationship seems the same. I prayed these marriages would be reconciled as a good friend I prayed for had her marriage blessed, her husband converted & is now a deacon. With my cousins it was not quite the same…one young lady was widowed & the other’s husband divorced her.

  15. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    I am going to be cynical which can be sinful as an Eastern Orthodox priest but my flock places me in this position all the time. According to diocesan protocol one parent must be Orthodox and the faithful know this. The other godparent must be a baptized Christian in the name of the Trinity. Both godparents must also be practicing Christians. Every baptism at my parish, except my sons, there have been Byzantine and Roman Catholic godparents for the newly illumined child (who are all good people, this is not the point). The way we get around this is there are three godparents entered in the metrical records.

    Now I know the bishop of blessed memory blessed this unusual practice at this parish because so many of the laity here have Roman and Byzantine Catholic relatives. That said, there are consequences to the schism, sinful consequences, and we must live with these consequences as horrible as they are! If the laity were told NO, maybe they would view the current state as terribly unacceptable, and then they could do their part in applying pressure to the bishops to put an end to this. Instead, they are given passes, which in my opinion make it easier for the sinful schism to continue.

    In closing it seems that being a godparent is just an honor bestowed on some friend or relative to some of the laity. They have no concept that if you want your child raised Orthodox the godparents must be Orthodox. I think a homily is in order.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    mmajen and others, if a person leaves the Catholic Church, as you correctly point out, they are leaving the one, true Church for another which is not with Rome. Why would anyone encourage even a “soft” apostasy? All Catholics are Catholics from birth to death. as I understand the change in the canon law clarified a few years ago by Benedict XVI.

    Sad to perhaps lose friends and even family, but I would absent myself and say why.

  17. dcs says:

    As for honesty vs. white lie…I don’t know which way is better.

    Since lying is always a sin, being honest is always better. That said, it doesn’t mean that one must be brutally honest, for we are not called merely to live the truth, but to live the truth in charity.

  18. acardnal says:

    @Supertradmum: I think you meant to say “. . . from BAPTISM to death.”

  19. ContraMundum says:

    Actually, I did read what you wrote.

    “Sorry, friend, but we’ve already volunteered to help the priest at our parish rebuild the altar rail that day!”

    If this person has not in fact ALREADY volunteered, this would be a “white lie.”

    It could be fixed with a small change:

    “Sorry, friend, but we will be doing maintenance work/yard work/cleaning at our parish that day!”

    (It’s probably best not to “volunteer” the priest — or any other 3rd party — for some specific project at a specific time, but there’s probably always some minor maintenance to be done.)

  20. Ed the Roman says:

    Why anyone would ask me to bring their child up in the Orthodox Church in the event of their demise, or think that I would, I do not know.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    acardinal, and you are correct. I meant to say that….I am in too much of a hurry to use the Internet while I have it today…thanks

  22. ContraMundum says:

    I’m afraid I sounded like I was yelling in my last post. That was not my intention.

  23. mamajen says:

    @Father Z – I’ve been sitting here, confused, trying to respond to Supertradmum’s comment above, and now I remember that some of what I said was deleted (and justifiably so). I vaguely remember using the term “white lie” (I think “dcs” above was quoting me), and I greatly apologize. I had previous comments on my mind rather than your original post, and I should have been more careful. I have a bad tendency to use the same terminology that others use (even if they shouldn’t have) in responding to them. I’m sorry that I inadvertently suggested that a priest would condone lying and misrepresented what you originally wrote. I feel very bad about this. You may delete this, too, if you see fit, but I just wanted you to know that I understand I was wrong, and I’m sorry.

    @Supertradmum – I was in no way intending to encourage a “soft apostasy”. I don’t believe that these people should be supported in their decision to leave the Church at all. However, the child is completely innocent, and I think burning bridges or giving up on their friends when it is possible that good could come from some level of continued involvement would be unfortunate. A lot depends on the type of relationship they have with these people. I am facing similar problems in my family, as my brother is preparing to be married in an Episcopal church, the rest of my family are determined to “look the other way” and support it because it’s easier, and I can’t avoid him for the rest of my life over this. I’m trying to be morally correct while also doing what I can to steer my brother back in the right direction when nobody else will. It’s a frustrating situation to be in, for sure.

  24. Phil_NL says:

    In my mind, refusing to serve as Godfather would, in this case, make it easier to be present at the baptism; the refusal makes it already perfectly clear that one cannot condone leaving the Church. Normally, the way to make that point would be to absent yourself, but the message has already been communicated loudly and clearly. In such a case, to also be absent from the baptism itself as well would be akin to pooring salt into the wound, I’d say. Moreover, what mamajen said: the little imp is innocent, and some good may come from continued relations.

    Last but not least: it is a valid baptism, which, regardless of the regrettable circumstances, would warrant some celebration.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    mamajen, these are hard calls for all of us. I suggest you read my bit on attending non-Catholic weddings of fallen away Catholics. http://supertradmum-etheldredasplace.blogspot.com/2012/02/one-may-never-do-evil-so-that-good-may.html

    Going to Protestant weddings is more and more tricky. As to the Baptism, I think it is odd that a couple in the Orthodox Church would even ask a Catholic. The Catholic godparent must promise to raise the child in the religion of Baptism, and one can only raise a child in the whole Truth. God bless you. We all have such decisions to make in our families.

  26. Mary Jane says:

    Right now I am dealing with a situation that is somewhat similar to the one the reader in the quaeritur is dealing with. In my situation, I felt I had no choice but to say the plain honest truth. It’s a very delicate, and difficult situation. Prayers for the reader.

  27. ReginaMarie says:

    pxs155: I do not know of any Byzantine Catholics who would approach to receive the Eucharist at an Orthodox parish (unless, of course, it was truly an emergency situation), but perhaps this is more common than I realize? It is only at funeral liturgies that I have heard our priest announce to the congregation that Catholics & Orthodox who are properly disposed may receive the Eucharist, not on a regular basis. I appreciate when priests, both Catholic & Orthodox, carefully guard the Eucharist — we are, after all, talking about the Real Presence of Our Lord, Jesus Christ!

  28. Joe Magarac says:

    I think some people are missing the important point that the parents of the baby are Catholics who left the Catholic church.

    I don’t think this is quite right. The reader stated that there was a marriage between a Catholic and a member of the Orthodox churches, and that rather than have both spouses become Catholic or both spouses attend services separately, the Catholic spouse became Orthodox.

    To my mind, this situation is significantly different from the situation in which two baptized Catholics leave the Church for an Orthodox church or a sect arising out of the so-called Reformation. We can’t and shouldn’t condone that sort of thing. But in this case, it makes sense for the new couple to attend the same church and raise their children in that church, which means somebody’s church was going to lose a member. I’m sad it was ours, but I can’t bring myself to think that joining the Orthodox church to be with one’s spouse is akin to becoming a Buddhist or (heaven forfend) an Episcopalian.

  29. Bea says:

    FR Z
    I’m so glad you added that:

    * Because some less than close-reading readers assumed that I recommended lying to get out of the baptism – I did NOT – I want to make a clarification. I wrote “find a legitimate activity as an excuse”. A legitimate activity. Not some fiction or other. Find something else that is legitimate to do at that time.
    I too, thought the same thing. But nevertheless, though the writer with the dilemma may stir up waters, it may (in the long run) touch his friend enough if he tells him the COMPLETE TRUTH of the matter as to why he cannot sponsor his child in baptism. It may cause his friend to re-think “maybe I am a schismatic/heretic. Maybe I should go back to THE REAL CHURCH” As long as the writer lets the friend understand that this has nothing to do with friendship but there is a HIGHER reason for his not willing to be the sponsor.

  30. Jael says:

    In ordinary circumstances, there is no way an Antiochian Orthodox priest is going to allow a Catholic to be a sponsor at an Orthodox baptism. I was Antiochian Orthodox for a while (in between being a cradle Catholic and a revert). Believe me, a Catholic sponsor just isn’t going to happen.

  31. Bea says:

    I just want to add that many years ago (Over 50 years ago) My best friend (an Episcopalian/We were a motley crew One Baptist, One Methodist, the Episcopalian and myself/Roman Catholic) asked me to sponsor her daughter in her Christening in the Episcopalian Church. I explained I could not and why.
    She understood and we are still the best of friends. At one point she wanted to join the Catholic Church but her mother said she would disown her if she did. I only heard about it recently. Now that her mother has died she occasionally attends a Catholic Church. I’m still praying for her.

    Also a friend of mine (a zealous Catholic) had a daughter that became pregnant. She was still unwed and other friends wanted to have a shower for her daughter. I explained I could not go to celebrate a sinful situation. The daughter’s boyfriend’s mother was also a sponsor to this shower. She asked my advise and I told her that if I was her, I would not attend. She didn’t and was criticized for it. But in the end the daughter realized the seriousness of what was going on and eventually married through the Church.
    Now this daughter is homeschooling her children (she now has 2), wearing a chapel veil and has her children wear one too. She and other ladies are trying to get a TLM Mass in their parish. My friend’s
    friends are still the best of friends with her and have more respect for her for having stuck to her guns (Her Faith).
    Sticking to THE TRUTH AT ALL COSTS certainly DOES work.
    It is the age of “white martyrdom” and we have to take our punches but it DOES work, even if it takes a little time. We won’t get miracles right away.

  32. pxs155 says:


    Your priest should not have mentioned the Orthodox even in that instance–that would be a temptation to any Orthodox there and possibly confuse everyone. And regarding Byzantine Catholics, it is surely not wide-spread, but I have still witnessed it happen at a service I took part in.

    I pray that this all would not be the case, but as it is now, we ain’t even close to that point. Anyone that thinks otherwise really needs to look at both sides as they currently stand.

  33. Ryan M says:

    Because of the list of legitimate activities, I started to wonder: who is it really hurting if, say, a group of people formed together and, under the cover of darkness, started sneaking into various churches and rebuilding the altar rails? Stories about of them being taken away overnight; why not add them overnight and bring closure to the story?

    For a more topical response, such a reader can always do what I (mostly in jest) have said I would do in a similar situation and just demand a certain amount of time each week to be spent personally catechizing the godchild in the Catholic faith, with sole discretion of texts to use. (I may have also considered demanding a book account to fund purchase of texts for the child.) The two results possible are 1) agreeing to your terms, which I suppose is ok, and 2)rescinding the offer, which means it was on them, not you. If you really want number 2 as a result, just keep adding absurd demands to the agreement. They’ll crack eventually.

  34. jesusthroughmary says:

    The capability of this blog’s readership to grasp tongue-in-cheek humor has apparently greatly diminished. I am appalled that anyone (much less committed readers/frequent commenters) would seriously believe that Father Z would advocate lying.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  35. Jael says:

    Regina Marie,

    Normally, the Orthodox will not give communion to a Catholic. If the priest doesn’t know you, he’ll ask if you are Orthodox when you come up for communion, and if you aren’t, then, no communion. One is advised when traveling to call ahead to the rectory and tell the priest you will be visiting the Divine Liturgy, and which parish you are a member of.

    If an Orthodox Christian takes communion in a Catholic Church, they will most likely get in big trouble with their Orthodox clergy. That’s why, in certain situations, some Catholic priests will say that Orthodox are welcome to receive communion, but they should do so only with the approval of their Orthodox priest. (I would be very surprised if this approval ever happens in non-emergency situations). I think nearly all Orthodox Christians know this … That’s what PSX155 means by being a temptation to the Orthodox present. (Sorry if this is redundant…I didn’t have time to read all the comments).

  36. Jael says:

    Oops, I just read the comment by Subdeacon Joseph. (Great post, by the way). I didn’t know they sometimes had three godparents to get around this problem. I agree with Subdeacon Joseph’s idea that making things clearer might hasten the healing of the schism. Very good point.

  37. St. Rafael says:

    The Church allows mixed marriages, but discourages them for these very reasons, of Catholics being tempted to leave the faith because of the spouse. Catholics should really only marry Catholics. If a Catholic does enter a mixed marriage, the children must be raised Catholic. That has not happened in this case.

    This is also another example of the ignoring and watering down of the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. His friend was a Catholic, who left the faith and became a schismatic. It is impossible for him to save his soul unless he returns to the Catholic Church. Catholics who knowingly leave the Church and reject the faith, cannot be saved. By refusing to be the godparent, his friend becomes a witness to the faith and it will help the former Catholic see the gravity of the situation that he is in. His soul is at stake, and the Catholic must make that clear to the ex-Catholic and schismatic. The first commantment of God cannot be broken.

  38. Ed the Roman says:

    The missalette from Oregon Catholic Press includes a communion blurb which very politely tells Protestants that we’re sorry they’re heretics who must not approach, and tells the Orthodox that while we don’t object, we ask them to respect their own Church’s discipline.

  39. acardnal says:

    Three cheers for “jesusthroughmary”s comment.

  40. Phil_NL says:

    @Ed the Roman

    Now that made me chuckle. The exact wording would be interesting.

  41. PaterAugustinus says:

    The sad fact, is that the Orthodox Church does not permit Roman Catholics to act as godparents for neophytes. We differ on dogmatic points; participation in the Sacraments (including sponsoring a Baptism) is not, therefore, possible, nor is it possible for somebody of a dogmatically different faith, to raise an Orthodox child up in Orthodoxy with a good conscience. Sure, you can find loosey-goosey Orthodox priests (esp. in the Antiochian and Greek Archdioceses – I’m a member of the latter, so I’m not hurling anathemata at anybody here!), just like you can find them in Catholicism. You can easily acquire permission from an Orthodox priest or bishop to act as godfather. But, such permission should not be given, and if it is given, it should not be used.

  42. Jael says:

    St. Rafael’s comment, quoted below, seems erroneous to me. Are there any Catholic priests or deacons out there who will comment?

    “This is also another example of the ignoring and watering down of the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation. His friend was a Catholic, who left the faith and became a schismatic. It is impossible for him to save his soul unless he returns to the Catholic Church. Catholics who knowingly leave the Church and reject the faith, cannot be saved.”

  43. Phil_NL says:


    I’m neither priest nor deacon, but still… to suggest that someone cannot be saved, period, smells of all kind of ugly things. Of course, leaving the Church does no good to your chances of salvation, but stating that it’s an impossibility would as far as I’m concerned, be way too close to denying Gods omnipotence.

    And there’s also the perennial issue that ‘leaving the Church’ may not equate to ‘leaving the Catholic Church’. Yes, there are people who hold that you must be a card-carrying Catholic parishioner, but that’s hardly universally held or authoritatively taught, neither now nor in the past.

  44. levi1991 says:

    Father, as far as I can see several manuals of moral theology state specifically that one CANNOT be a sponsor at a non-catholic baptism and vice-versa, one may passively participate in the baptism of course but one cannot encourage someone who is in schism whether it be material or formal. Rather we should, as I am sure father believes pray for their conversion.

    As for those who say ‘leaving the church’ does not equate to ‘leaving the Catholic Church’ consider the fact that Christ established a VISIBLE Church with a VISIBLE head and you will see how nonsensical of a proposition that is. It would be almost impossible for such a person to have good faith and thus they would either be a formal heretic or a formal schismatic or an apostate, indeed one manual of moral theology states that the common opinion is that ‘It is impossible for Catholics to commit apostasy in good fath’ (A dictionary of Moral theology, 1962) I wish such a thing were possible, for my mother, is such a case, but I cannot see how it would be possible.

  45. mrose says:


    You wrote: “And there’s also the perennial issue that ‘leaving the Church’ may not equate to ‘leaving the Catholic Church’. Yes, there are people who hold that you must be a card-carrying Catholic parishioner, but that’s hardly universally held or authoritatively taught, neither now nor in the past.”

    Demonstrably false: “Now, therefore, we declare, say, determine and pronounce that for every human creature it is necessary for salvation to be subject to the authority of the Roman pontiff.” – Pope Boniface VIII, Bull “Unam Sanctam”

    The Church=The Catholic Church.

  46. Jael says:

    Priests? deacons? Please, we need your input… thanks…

  47. Phil: You risk the mistake of equating “leaving the Catholic Church” with “not being in the Catholic Church”. Morally, two very different things.

    Of course, a righteous person who’s not a member of the Catholic Church, never having been exposed to its fullness of faith, can be saved.

    However, a member of the Church who leaves the Church apparently makes a conscious choice to reject the Faith received, committing the grave sin of apostasy, and thereby imperiling his soul. (One can say “apparently” here only because of the lamentable state of Catholic catechesis, the fact of being a member of the Church not necessarily guaranteeing exposure to the fullness of faith.)

  48. Jael says:

    A confession heard by an Orthodox priest is considered valid by the Roman Catholic Church. I went from cradle Catholic to Antiochian Orthodox and back to the Catholic Church. When I was preparing to be received back into the Catholic Church, no priest would hear in confession the sins I confessed while I was Orthodox. The Catholic Church has said that their sacraments are valid (but illicit). Even Bishop Vasa, in person, told me I don’t have to confess again the sins that received absolution when I was Orthodox. So, what does that do to your idea that you can’t be saved if you are Orthodox? I’d say that idea does not hold any water at all.

  49. St. Rafael says:

    The problem being that an orthodox priest is not going absolve the Catholic from the sin of schism from the Catholic Church. The sin of schism in itself, which is a sin against the first commandment. That can’t be resolved until the schism ends and the person returns to the one true faith of the Catholic Church. The Magisterium has spoken nemerous times over the centuries that there is no salvation for those in schism and heresy.

  50. Jael says:

    St. Rafael, I don’t think that’s right. I am going to bow out of this conversation in hopes that a priest or deacon will come in with an authoritative answer.

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  52. Nicole says:

    Jael – the Roman Pontiffs have already answered the question authoritatively from such diverse sources as Canon Law (cans. 750, 751 and 1364, etc.), Papal documents (Unam Sanctam, Ad Apostolorum Principis, etc.) and Ecumenical Councils (Councils of Florence and Trent). If you don’t take those as authoritative and self-determinate, then there is something REALLY wrong.

  53. Phil_NL says:

    @ Henry Edwards: I wrote hastily, not a very good idea on these matters, and got the phrasing somewhat wrong. Thanks.

    @mrose: sorry, but then the next question is what would be the contents of “be subject to the authority of the Roman pontiff.”. If memory serves me, various medieval popes also asserted that the entire world was subject to them, both in worldy and spiritual terms. (and the next rabbit hole opens…)

    I continue to find any pronouncements of the sort ‘he / she will not (let alone ‘cannot’) be saved’ highly dubious. Not because everyone will be saved, that’s obviously not the case, but because the determination is Gods, and God’s alone, in his infinite wisdom and mercy. I do not believe that in this life we’ll have any certainty on who won’t make it to heaven (that requires info on both the sin and forgiveness, and the latter is often hidden from us). We only know the status of those that are saved and are given to the Church as Saints.

  54. Nicole says:

    Phil_NL, one can re-state what the Popes have already taught authoritatively. This is an objective truth regardless of the internal, unseen by human eyes and subjective disposition of each individual:

    “We teach, . . . We declare that the Roman Church by the Providence of God holds the primacy of ordinary power over all others, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate. Toward it, the pastors and the faithful of whatever rite and dignity, both individually and collectively, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in matters which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the whole world, in such a way that once the unity of communion and the profession of the same Faith has been preserved with the Roman Pontiff, there is one flock of the Church of Christ under one supreme shepherd. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth from which no one can depart without loss of faith and salvation.” — Ad Apostolorum Principis, Pope Pius XII

    Take it as you will.

  55. Phil_NL says:

    Nicole, you write “regardless of the internal, unseen by human eyes and subjective disposition of each individual” – the thing is, that’s a purely academic discussion, as those factors always come into play when talking about actual persons.

    Perhaps my main gripe is that people always tend to cross this threshold; pronouncements such as these are hurled at people or actions that implicate people. The salvation of people would depend on God’s judgement of their actions, not on their actions alone. And that’s how I read the various Popes: as condemning the actions (such as schism), and establishing that by their nature they are endangering salvation. (something I would never want to contradict, I’m a Catholic myself after all) Yet whether that danger is actually realised would always involve a specific person, and therefore God’s mercy and justice applied to that person. And I think it’s mightily presumptious to pronounce on that as mere humans, and I don’t think the popes should be read as doing that either.

  56. Jael says:

    Nicole–Just as the Bible can be interpreted in many ways, so can the extra-Biblical documents of the Church. That’s why we need to have tricky questions explained by someone trained in Tradition. It’s not Canon Law I question. It’s your interpretation of Canon Law.

  57. jhayes says:

    “If a Catholic does enter a mixed marriage, the children must be raised Catholic.”

    St. Raphael, my recollection is that, in the past, both parties to the marriage would have had to sign an agreement that any children would be raised as Catholics. My understanding of the current situation is that only the Catholic party must make a promise to to do all possible to see that the children are raised as Catholics. The non-Catholic party must be informed that the Catholic party has made that promise, but doesn’t have to agree to it.

  58. jhayes says:

    St. Rafael, my apologies for misspelling your name.

    Here are the current requirements (from a website sponsored by the USCCB):

    Because of these challenges, the church requires the Catholic party to be faithful to his or her faith and to “promise to do all in his or her power” to have their children baptized and raised in the Catholic faith. This provision of the 1983 Code of Canon Law – with its wording to try one’s best – is a change from the 1917 version, which required an absolute promise to have the children raised Catholic.

    Likewise, the non-Catholic spouse is no longer required to promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith, but “to be informed at an appropriate time of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that the other party is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party,” the code states.

    But suppose the non-Catholic party insists that the children will not be raised Catholic? The diocese can still grant permission for the marriage, as long as the Catholic party promises to do all he or she can to fulfill that promise, Hater writes. The marriage may be legal, he notes, but is it a wise choice? Those are questions that may also need to be explored in marriage preparation.

    If children are raised in another faith, he notes, “the Catholic parent must show children good example, affirm the core beliefs of both parents’ religious traditions, make them aware of Catholic beliefs and practices and support the children in the faith they practice.”


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