Hey Father! Who can be a Godparent?

Specifically, can someone who was baptized Catholic as an infant, but raised Lutheran and is now a practicing member of the Lutheran Church, be a Godparent for a child being baptized Catholic as long as the other Godparent is Catholic?

– Janet in Brussels

Dear Janet,

Your question is filled with various aspects: 1) the role of Sponsor/Godparent; 2) the role of Christian witness which is often referred to as a Godparent; and 3) the issue of being baptized a Catholic as an infant but raised in another Christian religion.

First of all, The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church gives the requirements for being a sponsor. Canon 873 states that “one sponsor, male or female is sufficient; but there may be two, one of each sex.” Canon 874 specifies the qualifications which are:

  • “Be appointed by candidate or parents;
  • Generally, “be 16 years of age”;
  • “Be baptized, and then be confirmed and sharing in Holy Communion in the Catholic Church”
  • Not have a canonical penalty”;
  • “Not be the parent of the infant/candidate.”  

Therefore, the simple answer for a Godparent (Sponsor) is that the person must be a practicing Catholic as the Godparent represents the Catholic community of faith into which the child is being baptized and will foster the child’s growth in that community. For a Catholic baptism, only a Catholic can truly fulfill it.

However, secondly, Canon 874 §2 states that “a baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community may be admitted only in company with a Catholic sponsor, and then simply as a witness to the baptism.” The witness is simply a person who can attest that the child was baptized. During the ritual, a non-Catholic witness may perform all the parts of the ceremony that a Godparent does. His or her name may be entered into the parish Baptism register as a witness, together, with the name of the Godparent.

Thirdly, I wonder if your question pertains more to the third variant, the issue of being baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church but raised in another Christian religion, namely for you, in the Lutheran Church. A person who was reared in the Catholic Church and then chose to defect from it after the age of reason, cannot have the role of either Godparent or Christian witness. However, the issue that you inquire about is someone who was baptized as an infant but grew up in the faith life that your parents reared you (Lutheranism). At the age of reason, you were identified as a member of the Lutheran Church in which you continued to practice your Christian faith. Because of that, you could serve as a Christian witness, however, because you practice Lutheranism today, you cannot serve as a Godparent at a Catholic Baptism.

Father Dean Probst, J.C.L. is pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Newton and St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Sainte Marie and is a judge on the Diocesan Tribunal