Q. My son’s girlfriend of two years has been attending Mass with us on a regular basis. She is now enrolled in weekly instructional classes and is scheduled to be baptized in a few weeks as a Catholic.
She had asked a couple who are longtime family friends to be her godparents, but neither one of them is a Catholic. She understands now that she will need a practicing Catholic as her official “sponsor,” but was told that only two godparents can sign her baptismal certificate and feels awkward about telling the couple that one of them cannot sign. What should she do? (Missouri.)
A. First, we should be clear on the rule that governs such a situation. But we could also consider whether, while still following the rule, some accommodation might be made out of pastoral sensitivity.
The rule is clear: In the church’s Code of Canon Law, No. 873 states that “there is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each.”
The next section, No. 874, goes on to explain that a sponsor must be a baptized Catholic, at least 16 years of age, who has received the sacraments of Eucharist and confirmation and who is living a life in conformity with the church’s teaching. It also says that a baptized non-Catholic may participate in the ceremony together with a Catholic sponsor, but as a “witness” to the baptism rather than a sponsor.
The reason for requiring that a sponsor be a practicing Catholic is that the sponsor takes on the responsibility of assisting the baptized person’s continued growth in the Catholic faith.
So, in the situation you present, the Catholic party would be the sponsor and one member of the non-Catholic couple could be the official “witness.”
But here is my suggestion. In some cultures (Filipino is the one I’m most familiar with), it is customary for several close family friends to stand with the child at the christening, in addition to the two official “sponsors.”
They do this as advocates for the child, endorsing his or her entrance into the church and pledging to support the person’s development in the Christian faith. So why not do that with this couple?
Assuming that they are baptized non-Catholics, why not have them both stand with the young woman at her baptism, endorsing her choice, along with the Catholic “sponsor”?
The couple could decide for themselves which of them will be the official “witness.” That name will go on the certificate and in the parish’s baptismal register, but they both will understand that they have played a key role in the young woman’s ceremony and in her choice.
Q. My 54-year-old son, who was in a Catholic marriage for 27 years and has two adult children, recently divorced his wife and married a twice-divorced woman who worked with him. I am having trouble accepting this woman into our family, as my sympathy lies with his first wife who was blindsided by the divorce.
How can I overcome this disdain for the second wife, and do I have to accept her? (I keep communication open with my son, hoping he will come to his senses.) (City of origin withheld)
A. It depends on what you mean by “accept her.” Do you have to welcome your son’s situation with enthusiasm? Of course not. But what you might do is to try to manage your disdain and to treat your son and his new wife in a civil manner, being decent and even kind, and certainly not exclude them from family gatherings.
If you’ve not already done so, you might have a heart-to-heart with your son, telling him honestly of the discomfort you feel with his decision, of your continuing sympathy for his former wife and of your disappointment at his having neglected the guidance of the church in which he was raised — all of this while assuring him of your lasting love for him.
I think you should also encourage him to attend Sunday Mass (if he’s not doing so). Even though he is not permitted to take Communion because of his marital situation, there is value in his keeping a channel open to God and to the church — and coupled with your prayers, who knows what that might eventually bring?
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.