From a reader…
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.