I got an email from a woman recently, inquiring about having a child baptized at our parish.
She has chosen a Greek Orthodox friend to be the godmother and wanted to know if that was okay. I assured her it was, provided the other godparent was (at minimum) a baptized Catholic. “One of the godparents,” I wrote, “needs to be Catholic; the other can be Christian.”
The mother wrote back: “Unfortunately, the godfather is neither Catholic nor Christian.”
Well. This comes up from time to time. Sometimes, parents want to select a Jewish and a Muslim to be godparents. (“We were thinking it would be nice and inclusive,” a father once told me.) One time, the parents admitted that neither of the people they had selected as godparents had any religion at all and one, in fact, was an atheist. “But he’s a really good person,” the mother explained, as if that were enough.
Parents, take note: you are having your child baptized Catholic. Being a godparent is not a ceremonial function. It is not something you do because someone is a good friend of high moral character or a person you think could do a good job raising the child if you got hit by a bus on the way home from the church.
The godparent/sponsor needs to be a model and witness for the Catholic faith.
Canon law is clear:
Can. 874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:
1/ be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;
2/ have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;
3/ be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;
4/ not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared;
5/ not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized. A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism.
This leads me to another interesting challenge that crops up more often than you may think: a lot of people just don’t know Catholics. They may be new to the area. They may not have siblings (or siblings they are close to). They may not know anyone in the circle of friends they feel comfortable asking. (“Can the church provide someone?” is a common question.) I usually suggest that couples revisit their Christmas card list or consider the grandparents.
Once, not so very long ago, people lived with the church and the parish as the center of their world, and everyone knew a lot of people who were Catholic. You grew up with them, saw them every Sunday, socialized with them, went to school with them, lived around them, married them.
That just doesn’t happen anymore.