ASK FATHER: It’s getting hard to find suitable godparents

From a reader…


Thank you for your blog and work. I have frequently found it informative and encouraging.

My wife and I, God willing, expect our third child shortly, but have been in difficulty over selecting suitable godparents.

A married relative would seem ideal, except that I know he dissents from the Church on same-sex marriage and gender theory. Is it permitted to use him and his wife? Would it be prudent? It’s rather challenging to find appropriate godparents and this relative would be a good candidate in other respects.

Congratulations on your growing family!

It seems to me that holding such odd ideas and dissenting from the Church’s teachings would, to my way of thinking, instantly disqualify a person from being a godparent to my child.

It seems that, as families get smaller, and as people move more frequently, and as fewer of our relatives and friends practice their Catholic Faith, it is getting harder and harder to find good godparents.

What to do?

Can. 872 says that there should be a sponsor “insofar as possible” (quantum fieri potest).

This means that a sponsor/godparent isn’t required for the validity of the sacrament.

Nevertheless, it is important to have at least one. Can. 873 makes provision for two, but no more than two.  It also says that if there are two, there must be one male and one female.

Also, keep in mind that, although the present Code is silent on this point, if you have someone in mind who isn’t in the area or who can’t make it to the baptism, the Church has traditionally provided that a proxy can stand in.  This can be done for confirmation as well.  The Code does, however, provide by can. 1104 §1 a proxy for marriage… though that’s for the exchange of matrimonial consent and not for the other important part.

You might talk to your parish priest about this.  It may be that this has come up before and that there are solid people in the parish who have stood in when necessary.

FATHERS!  It could be useful for parishes to provide a roster of good, faithful, committed Catholic parishioners willing to serve as godparents for those, like our interlocutor, who are in a bind.

Perhaps some lay people, with their priest, could start up an apostolate, a Confraternity St. John the Baptist for Baptismal and Confirmation Sponsors.  St. John the Baptist, after all, is the patron saint of godparents.  Although, alternatively, perhaps the apostolate could be named in honor of St. Vito of Corleone.  In a pinch the pastor could run his finger down the list of potential sponsors while muttering, “I’ll give you a sponsor you can’t refuse.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr_Andrew says:

    According to the traditional rubrics of the Ritual and older Code (which gives the spirit of the Church, even if the present law seems more lax on the point), for a solemn Baptism (i.e. with the whole ceremony) as opposed to a simple Baptism (e.g. an emergency Baptism) at least one sponsor was required, but only one was required.

    The custom of having a set of Godparents is a good custom, but not obligatory.

    This means that even to keep the more rigorous standard, one need only have a single sponsor, male or female (but ideally of the same sex as the child). Typically in a particular parish at least one good orthodox Catholic friend can be found who would be a sponsor. Also for a larger family nothing presents an older sibling who is at least confirmed, and probably at least a young teenager, from being the sponsor.

    If nothing else, and the extended family insists on an inappropriate sponsor, you can always ask Father for some covering fire : Tell him your issue, and that you want a good Catholic, and then he can take the heat for rejecting the unfitting family member and insisting on a good practicing Catholic. With all the other heat that we priests take as part of the day job, that’s an easy hit to bear.

  2. Let me state the obvious:

    Godparents for child number 1 can be enlisted for child number 2, 3, etc.

    Maybe not ideal, but there’s no rule against it.

  3. Curt says:

    I had a similar problem about ten years ago when looking for a suitable sponsor for my own confirmation. Since I’d been attending daily Mass regularly at the time, I simply approached someone I saw there often. It turned out he was delighted to help.

  4. My wife and I chose among our faithful practising Catholic friends for our five daughters’ godparents; for daughter no. 3 that friend also happened to be my beloved elder sister. For no. 5 it was a Texan friend as godmother for whom our niece stood proxy. (Texas to Belfast was too long a trek, sadly). Once we decided to look outside the family circle and go to our wider circle of Catholic friends, we found there were more than enough who were willing (and sometimes even eager) to stand for our young ladies.

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  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    When instructing parents before in preparation for baptism, I always point out that there choice of sponsors is too important to just choose a family member out of honor for them.

    The sponsors are those who you are choosing to have a permanent spiritual relationship with your child, to assist you in raising your child up in the faith and to take over raising him or her in the faith if you cannot.

    For this reason, your choice of sponsor should look a lot like your choice of who you have selected in your will to raise your minor children upon your death. (And you really should choose someone for this. Don’t leave it for your state to select someone through the court system)

    One couple I know chose well by choosing one aunt and uncle as godparents for all of their 7 children. They said that they did this because should something happen to them, they wanted their children to stay together. As it turned out, this did indeed happen. The father ran off and subsequently, the mother died suddenly while most of the children were still minors. The godparents stepped up and the children were able to grow up with their cousins.

  7. Alice says:

    Our children all have godparents who are not related to us. On our “short list” for another child are devout friends, who would probably appreciate getting a Mother’s Day or a Father’s Day card every year since they are single and seem unlikely to marry. Some of our friends have used the same godparents for all their children. I know people who have used young orthodox priests (a priest can be a godfather under the current code of Canon Law). I believe people have asked the couples who do Baptismal prep at our parish to be their child’s godparents. It’s usually possible to find orthodox godparents by broadening the search.

  8. Elizium23 says:

    I wonder if there are others with my experience. I have frequently offered myself as a sponsor for those who have none. Especially in the RCIA classes I teach, with catechumens who come from non-Catholic families and circles of friends. Despite many professing difficulty in finding a sponsor, no RCIA student has taken me up on the offer.

    I was personally requested once by my pastor, for a gentleman who was being received into the Church. I gladly accepted my role as his Confirmation sponsor. I did everything possible to keep in touch, but he did not waste much time in disappearing. I think he is still attending Mass, but we don’t see each other.

    Perhaps people are unwilling to accept a stranger as a sponsor or godparent. I will grant that that is a legitimate obstacle. But think of this: what better way to become acquainted with the Christian faith and cement a bond of fellowship and a solid link to the community, than going outside your family and friends for such a sponsor? And likewise, for someone such as myself, we absolutely relish the chance to exercise evangelization in this manner, helping the person in our charge grow his relationship with Christ, and becoming fruitful, joyful, and holy.

  9. majuscule says:

    I manage my church Facebook page. (It’s a mission church belonging to a parish with three churches.) One day I received a message from a woman asking about a class for prospective godparents.

    I give her credit for trying to prepare…but the parish has no “class”. So a knowledgeable couple at my church met with her before Sunday Mass to instruct her and give her a reading list.

  10. Tom Ormon II says:

    perhaps the apostolate could be named in honor of St. Vito of Corleone.” silent laugh emoticon … I have to stop reading this in the wee hours of the morning (I actually did a Google search on St. Vito of Corleone … far too early for tongue-in-cheek {I come here in search of dichotomies on the collect(s) for this Sunday’s Mass, and this is what I find :-)} …

  11. byzantinesteve says:

    We have had a similar experience in our own family. My wife is one of four children and of those chosen to be godparents for them, two are deceased, two are practicing faithful Catholics and the other four are no longer Catholic.

    We told each other we would not select godparents for our own kids unless we could be 100% certain they would remain practicing Catholics throughout their entire lives. We didn’t want to have to explain to our teenagers why their godparents no longer went to mass.

    This policy has necessarily excluded all of my and my wife’s siblings (though a few are practicing but not super engaged), agitating my mother in-law who feels family should be given first priority. We simply have a different approach to choosing godparents than opting for siblings simply by default.

    Interestingly, this has caused us to have serious discussions about who we would want to be guardians for our children in the event we died or were unable to raise our kids. We actually settled on some close friends (nonrelatives) in the area who we could be confident would raise our kids to be faithful, orthodox Catholics. We could not be as certain this would be the case with our own siblings raising our kids.

    It really is unfortunate because we would love nothing more than to choose our siblings as godparents but the circumstances seem to be pointing against the idea at the moment. Choosing siblings would certainly be the easiest choice and would alleviate a lot of tension in our family.

  12. TonyO says:

    Quite correct that you can “recycle” your childrens’ godparents – choose the same ones for later kids as for earlier ones. This has the additional advantage that if something should happen to you and your spouse, the godparents are there to step in to help for more than just one kid, which kind of makes them natural guardians.

    It is also true that you can have the older kids be godparents to the younger, if they are confirmed. This has a certain disadvantage, though: in this day and age, you cannot be confident that a person will stay in the Church and stay practicing the faith, until they are past their teens and even early 20’s. So it means you are taking a chance on whether your oldest ones will remain in the faith. In bygone years that wasn’t much of a chance, but these days nobody can be assured that every one of their kids will stay on the true path.

    Ideally, your godparents will be someone who will remain in contact with your family long term even if you should move, so relatives are by and large a better choice than, say, neighbors or co-workers. (Relatives also have an innate reason to remain in your kids’ lives, even if you and your spouse should die, thus not requiring any special requests of the kids’ guardians. ) It is so unfortunate that families are smaller and so many relatives are NOT practicing the faith, so that our options are so limited.

  13. capchoirgirl says:

    Right, what Fr. Martin said. If you can’t find “new” godparents that are suitable, use the others! My parents are godparents for several of their nieces and nephews.
    Also–does the writer have nieces or nephews that are qualified? I was a godmother at 16, and I took–and still take–my responsibility VERY seriously.

  14. David Collins says:

    You mean godparents and sponsors are supposed to do something? [ mind blown]

  15. kat says:

    Regarding the “offering by singles or others in the parish” to take on those duties: I have a good number of godchildren, simply from being asked by various friends in our church. Some are relatives, some are not. We have been reminded in a sermon on Baptismal sponsors this year how serious this duty is. Some of my godchildren I don’t see at all. (I have 2 that my husband and I don’t share, my husband has one that I don’t share, and we have several we share.) The ones whose parents left the Faith, or who as adults themselves left the Faith, I still am responsible for!! And of course the ones that are in the Faith I am also. It is a serious obligation. I’ve got to figure out how I can do SOMETHING to help those who have left the Faith, if at all possible, besides just praying. Maybe I should send them a Miraculous medal, or put a green scapular in a personalized pillow as a gift, and say the special prayer for a conversion. But it is a serious obligation and I cannot imagine taking that on for people I don’t even know or have no real relationship with. It’s hard enough when you know them but never see them or don’t have a relationship with their families any more.

  16. Thorfinn says:

    I’m afraid one can’t be too careful about choosing godparents. We considered two cousins in stable marriages…until one suddenly, unexpectedly divorced; the other, more conservative one promptly separated and began dating without even waiting on the divorce. In a way it may be easier to avoid family altogether to sidestep the questions about why Aunt Bea got the nod but not Aunt Kay. I’d say pick godparents most likely to be saints, family or not. That’ll maximize the prayer haul, too.

  17. MrsMacD says:

    Some of the Godparents we picked for our children are regrettable because they either have a poor faith or have left Holy Mother Church. It grieves my heart. Sometimes I look at a child and say, “I wonder if he’s like that because we picked that godparent for him.”

    My advice, if you’re really confused about who to pick for a godparent, go to Mass every day for a week and pick someone you see there. Even if the person is a little off his rocker at least he’s in the presence of God and faithful and will pray for your child. Or ask father about a devout sick person in the parish. Sick people who are devout are often very close to God and if they are lonely they will be super happy to have a new person to love and be loved by.

    As for those who suggest a family member is optimal. I actually had a priest suggest when we were choosing our first godparents that we choose people outside the family because then you have new family members in the godparents.

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