ISSUE: What is the role of godparents (sponsors)? What are the Catholic Church’s norms regarding godparents? May a Catholic serve as a godparent for a non-Catholic? May a non-Catholic Christian serve as a godparent for a Catholic? Finally, may a Catholic have more than one godfather and godmother?
DISCUSSION: To understand the role of godparents, we must first understand the purpose and effects of Baptism and Confirmation. In addition to the forgiveness of all sins (cf. Catechism, no. 1263) and the placement of an indelible mark on the person’s soul (cf. Catechism, nos. 1272-74), Baptism has two other effects that are social in nature: The person becomes an adopted son of God (cf. Catechism, no. 1265), and he becomes a member of the Body of Christ, which is the Church (cf. Catechism, nos. 1267-71).
Confirmation completes Baptism (cf. Catechism, nos. 1303-04). Because it completes Baptism, the social effects of Confirmation are similar to those of Baptism. The person is conformed more perfectly to Christ as a son of God, is more perfectly united to the Body of Christ, and is strengthened to bear witness to the faith in daily life. The godparents’ role is directly related to these social effects of Baptism and Confirmation.
When a person receives Baptism, God forgives his sins and removes all punishment due to sin. The Father grants him the gift of salvation. However, he can lose this gift. Just as the king expected his servants to use their talents for his glory and took away the talents from the unworthy servant (Lk. 19:11-27), so God expects us to work out our salvation through prayer and acts of charity. In short, we must continually conform ourselves to Christ (Phil. 1:27-2:18; Catechism, nos. 1691-96). Thus, Baptism is only the beginning of a new spiritual life, in which we must grow in virtue and grace before God and man. This growth in virtue and grace reflects our status as God’s children by adoption and as members of the Church.
Examples of Faith
A godparent’s role is to assist the growth of the baptized in his new spiritual life. As adopted sons of God and members of His family, the Church, the baptized must live in harmony with the Family of God. A godparent promises to provide an example of faith to “help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism, and to fulfill faithfully the obligations connected with it” (canon 872). If the baptized is an infant or child whose parents are faithful Catholics, the godparent assists the parents, who are the primary teachers of the faith (Gravissimum Educationis [GE] 3). If the baptized is an infant or child whose parents are not faithful to the Church, or if the baptized is an adult, the godparent must provide a primary role in the spiritual growth of his godchild.
The greatest help a godparent provides is an example of faith. The godparent must foster the virtues within himself and provide an example of prayer. As part of this example of faith, the godparent must be involved in the life of his godchild. No one is an example unless he is seen by those to whom he witnesses. Being actively involved in the life of a godchild fosters a strong relationship and enables the godparent to serve as a role model. The godchild can then better understand his status as a child of God.
Special Requirements
“In so far as possible, a person being baptized is to be assigned a sponsor” (Canon 872). Because this role is so important, a godparent in the Catholic Church must (1) be a Catholic in full communion with the Church; (2) be properly designated and accept the responsibilities; (3) meet age requirements recognized in the diocese where the Baptism takes place; and (4) not be the mother or father of the one baptized (GE 3; canon 874 section 1). A godparent cannot provide an example of faith if he does not share the faith. Because a godparent promises to assist in the formation of the newly baptized, and
agrees to represent the community of faith and encourage his godchild to remain in full communion with the Church, he must be in full communion with the Catholic Church himself. That is, a godparent for a Catholic must be a Catholic in good standing. He must have received Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation, and he must be living a life in harmony with the faith (GE 3; cf. canon 874). He also must be eligible to receive the sacraments and cannot be bound by any ecclesiastical penalty. Of particular concern today are Catholics married outside the Church. Because such a person is not living a life in harmony with the teachings and practice of the Church, he is not eligible to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Until he reconciles himself with the Church, he may not act as a godparent.
Regarding the first requirement that a godparent be Catholic, there is one exception that concerns the relationship between Eastern Rite Catholics and our separated brethren in the Orthodox Church. “For a just cause,” regarding the Baptism of an Eastern Catholic, “it is permitted to admit the Christian faithful of another Eastern non-Catholic Church to the function of a sponsor, but always at the same time with a Catholic sponsor.”[1] This means that a Ukrainian Catholic may have a Russian Orthodox godparent, provided that there is a good reason for it (family relationship) and he also has another Catholic godparent.
Godparents and Witnesses
Because Baptism is the sacrament that unites all Christians (cf. Catechism, no. 1271), and because the Church recognizes the importance of family relationships and close friendships, a Catholic may serve as a “witness” for a non-Catholic in Baptism, but not as a godparent. A Catholic cannot serve as a godparent for someone who has no intention of growing in the Catholic faith. Likewise, one non-Catholic may act as a “witness” at a Catholic Baptism, but only if a Catholic is also acting as godparent for the baptized.[2] These pastoral norms allow family relationships to be fostered and the faith to be
witnessed to non-Catholics.
As noted above, it is necessary that the godparents be chosen for that purpose and accept the responsibilities. The godparents must also meet any requirements set forth by the local bishop. These requirements are meant to ensure that the godparent takes the responsibilities seriously and is able to fulfill them.
The godparents must not be the parents of the baptized. According to the Church’s ancient tradition, a spiritual relationship arises between the godparent and the one baptized. This relationship establishes a bond in faith and carries responsibilities of spiritual parenthood. If a child’s natural parents do not raise and form the person in the faith, godparents must fulfill this obligation. Parents already have a parental relationship that is primary and, if they were the godparents, there would be no one designated to assist them or take their place in their absence. This spiritual relationship is so strong
that, in former days, the Church would not allow a godparent and godchild to marry. While this prohibition to marriage no longer exists in the Western Church, it does exist in the Eastern Catholic Churches. This means that in the Eastern Catholic Churches, one may not serve as the godparent of a prospective spouse, although this may be dispensed by the local bishop.[3] Furthermore, this spiritual relationship is so important that the Church
recommends that “the one who undertook the role of sponsor (godparent) at baptism be sponsor for confirmation” (canon 893 section 2).
Finally, for a Catholic baptismal candidate, “one sponsor, male or female is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex” (canon 873). Therefore, Catholics can only have one godfather, one godmother, or one of each.
Building the Family of God
Being a godparent is an important duty in the Catholic Church. Often, godparents are chosen from family members and close friends. Quite often, godparents do not live in the same locale as their godchild. While this makes it difficult to be a part of the child’s life, it is not impossible. At the very least, godparents should send cards on their godchild’s Baptism day, Confirmation day, birthday, Christmas, or other significant days in his life. Remembering their Baptism and Confirmation encourages the godchild to call upon the grace received from these sacraments and live a life worthy of a child of God. They
should keep in contact by letter, telephone and, if possible, personal visits. Parents should encourage the relationship between their children and their children’s godparents. In this way, the children will not consider Baptism or Confirmation simply a nice thing that happens. Rather, they will experience a concrete relationship that bears witness to their status as adopted children of God. Further, they will be encouraged to live life in harmony with the greater family of the Church.


  • Daniel Grummett says:

    Just a warning, some anti-catholic person has been using the CatholicSay email and khenyar kingsley’s name to send emails attacking Catholic teachings. This is particularly troubling to me as a RCIA teacher because I recommended (and still do) CatholicSay as a resource for my students and they may have received these false emails and think they come from CatholicSay. I had no choice but to recommend that they unsubscribe to CatholicSay until this problem is resolved, though I still recommend the web site.

    • Zachariah watiki says:

      Thanks alot for the incite on the role of godfather. I will be receiving my conditional baptism i will be able to choose my godfather to assist in my spiritual growth.

  • john Blickley says:

    Can a grandparent be a godparent?

    • Daniel Grummett says:

      Although not preferred, since they already have an important role as grandparent,it is allowed. My parents have been god-parents for some of my children because, unfortunately, most of my family are no longer practicing Catholics.

  • Bridget says:

    What do you do when your parish priest Vietnamese, never has time to christening children. Been parishioner 35 years He came here knowingly little English or American culture or the will to learn it! He had no respect for women and dislikes children! The outcome is a flourishing large Catholic Community is now 10:30 Mass is attended by 30 to 34 members in the past by 10 AM standing room only in the parking lot overflowing parishioners at every mass and parish function! Why is this allowed! A very condescending attitude to all! Also, many Viet Name Veterans are parishioners and this priest does not get along with Veterans! This Sunday did not know it was Flag Day! This is why many churches are closing the young adults believe what they were taught and respected growing up but then the powers that be put these priest in USA parishes to fail! Shame on those who caused this!

    • Daniel Grummett says:

      This is very unfortunate! Probably, the only thing you can do is alert the bishop of your diocese.

  • Shelley says:

    My daughter wishes to have her brother be godfather to her daughter. He meets all requirements except he doesn’t “belong” to any particular parish. They want him to join a church or he is not acceptable. He truly is the best candidate. Since there is no one else who meets the criteria we may have to go outside the church for baptism. Why?

  • Daniel Grummett says:

    Shelly, while I do not believe that Cannon Law specifically requires membership to a particular parish, the diocese overseeing the baptism may. It is the only way they can be sure he is a practicing Catholic who is attending Mass regularly. If he is attending mass every Sunday, which is a requirement, what parish is he attending? Why not just register with that parish? It is easy and it does not mean he can not attend Mass at other parishes as well, if he wishes. He will also need to attend a Baptism preparation class and provide proof of attendance so he will need to register with a parish to do so. I would urge him to register with a parish.

    • Daniel Grummett says:

      Also, to be in good standing, he had to be baptized, confirmed and must be regularly partaking of the sacrament of Eucharist and Reconciliation. He also must be in good standing with the Church and be attending Mass regularly. If he is doing all these things, why the resistance to registering with a parish? If he received the Sacrament of Confirmation, he had to have been a member of a parish at some point and may well still be registered with that parish (unless he specifically asked to be unregistered). Either way, he should register!The fact that he is so resistant to doing so that you feel you might have to “go outside the Church” to baptize the baby, seems very strange and makes me wonder if he actually IS in good standing with the Church and really does meet the criteria.

  • Anne says:

    I have learnt a whole lot today. Thank God

  • Tracy says:

    What should a godparent do when the parents, for all intents and purposes, leave the Church? I’m godmother to two children (siblings) and after their baptism, the family stopped attending mass and the children have not received first communion. I feel as though I am the only one in the situation concerned about keeping their baptismal vows but I don’t know what I can do about it. The parents only get defensive when the topic of religion is discussed. I also live in another state from them.

  • Maria Lara says:

    Is it true godparents are only able to be godparents till the child is eighteen?

    • Daniel Grummett says:

      No, A godparent is always a godparent, though their role may change a bit after the god-child is grown. Still, the god parent should continue to support the person in their faith and be available for advice.

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