Godparents Abolished

Bishop Michele Fusco of Diocese of Sulmona-Valva, Italy, has recently published a decree where he abolishes Godparents in Baptism and Confirmation for a three year ad experimentum period (this article translates most of the decree into English).

The short decree starts from the premise that in many case the godparents are chosen in a manner that “is a kind of formal fulfilment in which the dimension of faith is hardly visible.” He reflects on the lack of this dimension of faith and the fact that often people proposed as Godparents do not meet the requirements for the role as expressed in canon law.

The bishop’s goal is not to abolish godparents indefinitely and admits that the decision will cause disappointment on the parish level, but he invites his pastors to reflect on the reasons for his decision with their parishioners in the hope that this three year break “may give new vigour to the role that all are called to play regarding the witness of faith and to the education of those who receive the Sacraments.”

On first glance this seemed very harsh to me.  But I would imagine that, like myself, most PrayTell readers have seen godparents and sponsors who did not hold the ecclesial dimension of their role in high esteem.  Many of the parents who bring children for baptism, have little faith formation themselves, and are unlikely to get much help from the godparents they have chosen to pass the faith on to their children.  Maybe we need to make bold experiments like this to help us to better meet the spiritual needs of our people. Hopefully this will be a temporary learning experience to help people hold the religious role of godparents in a higher esteem. Although it will undoubtedly cause some short term strife, could this be a case of breaking eggs to make an omelette?

15 comments

  1. This strikes me as a lateral cousin of the idea that abstaining from Holy Communion makes the soul grow fonder for it.

    I understand that circumstances prompting this, as they are of long standing, but not yet persuaded that the remedy is suited to the purpose. Instead I can see how this shortens ritual (which so many in the pews would applaud for its own sake) and, besides, layfolk can denote godparents on their own at the private festive meal (‘the Church might not see you as our baby’s godparent, but our family sure does’), so be careful what you ask for….

    Curious about the canonical authority for this (I get that emergency baptisms and baptisms in emergency situations would be a situation where canon law would foresee impossibility).

  2. The solution to this problem surely lies in a more rigorous application of can. 874 § 1, 3°, which states that godparents are to “lead a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on”. Furthermore, how is this decree in keeping with cann. 872 and 892, which state that those who are to be Baptised and Confirmed are to be given a sponsor quantum fieri potest?

    But no, apparently there is no appetite for these at times difficult conversations with some families, so all the faithful of Sulmona-Valva are to be ‘encouraged’ (i.e. forced) to ‘reflect’ on the role of godparents – for “pastoral” reasons, of course!

    Frankly, this decree is ridiculous and petty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone successfully appeals to Rome regarding it. Failing that, I suspect many of the clergy of Sulmona-Valva will be making more judicious use of the iusta causa provision in can. 857 § 2 than they normally would.

  3. Very bad idea. Disrupts even further the bond’s of extended family and the network that surrounds children as they grow. Likely another decision made with no consultation with families or pastors. If he did, it would have been resoundingly negative. Stupid, unilateral, illegitimate decision. Canadian and US Bishops should ignore this idiotic move. If they do consider…they should actually consult….you know the people of God

  4. While I’d been tapped as a Godparent, I really didn’t have a clue as to what it entailed — stand here, say this, sign here, Amen. I would suggest that most would consider the “job” of Godparent, done and dusted, shortly after the cake’s been served and the ceremonial duds are packed up in tissue paper to await being passed some decades down the road.
    In 2009 there was a huge tug on my heart, I began to celebrate the various anniversaries of my Sacraments, my holy moments, the burning bush summons to take off my shoes and stand on holy ground. To do that though I went in search of the documents and the dates. In turn, that led to a deeper examination of the dates themselves, the dates as they sat in the Liturgical Calendar. Why? Why those particular dates? Odd to notice that the dates were all the more relevant after the passage of decades and a pattern of life choices were in place — as if, the pattern was known and a date chosen to resonate with the pattern. And the dance of humility and gratitude began to sway…
    Would that my Godparents made it an annual event to celebrate the anniversary of my baptism with me! The same for my Confirmation sponsor! Mass, a meal, a bit of spiritual direction for dessert – Pondering how the Holy Spirit was moving in my life over the year hence? On going relationship, annual renewal.
    What about a parish based Monthly Mass to celebrate the anniversaries of Baptism regardless of the year. Full House, in May and Easter Months? Conception Abbey is giving Sacrament Anniversary Cards a go in their Printery catalog.

    In praise and thanksgiving for the 74th anniversary of my baptism, Sign of God’s love for me, so that the joyful hope of my salvation can not be taken from me. Amen

  5. Perhaps, what Bishop Michele Fusco of Diocese of Sulmona-Valva, Italy is drawing our attention to is how we who are “called” to the “vocation of Godparent” is our own abdicated from the ministry? What does our own Baptisms mean to us? Is it nothing more than a club card? Please admit the bearer of this certificat etc. Do we recognize the Gift of our Baptisms present as Living Water flowing from the Side of Christ?
    How do we express our faithfulness to our Baptismal Promises? We can not teach what we do not know! What if across the day, as we experience the presence of water, we received it as a reminder of our Baptism of whom we are in Jesus Christ?
    What if each sip of water, our morning shower, that dive into a swimming pool, the rain falling on drought hardened soul were received as a call to offer praise and thanksgiving for the Gift of our Baptism, a Sign of God’s Love for us and the joyful hope that our salvation can not be taken from us?

    How humbling it is to know that for 74 years of my wandering in the desert, God remains faithful even when I am utterly clueless.
    In Bishop Michele Fusco of Diocese of Sulmona-Valva, Italy is a challenge to each of us far beyond a commentary on his actions.
    Today’s Responsorial Psalm
    With you is the Fountain of Life, O Lord.
    What does that look like as lived experience? Is our response this day – living Psalmody?

    1. Godparents are more than exemplars (or not) of Christian discipleship. They are symbols of the faith community which the infant is being unitiated into and which has a sacred responsibility to help and support the parents of the infant. What are we saying about the communal dimension of discipleship when we eliminate this symbol?

      I am also a little dismayed regarding the implicit judgmentalism on the part of this bishop (and others?) In declaring some godparents unworthy. Surely the parents who selected them know their virtues, not all of which are immediately visible to a cleric who may know nothing about them. The parents are adults and must be considered competent to make this judgment.

      I guess you can tell I think this is a bad idea.

  6. A couple of times when I tried to be a good godparent for my goddaughter it was her mother (my sister) who got upset with me for doing something besides buying gifts at birthday and Christmas (and first communion) time.

  7. A 2000 year old practice he puts on hold for a period of time! Should not the good bishop focus on faith renewal and the salvation of his people? I often get parents and god parents who know little or nothing at all. I use the time to form and catechize.

  8. Often the parish is contacted about a baptism after the godparents have already been selected. This makes for a difficult situation. If a couple does not attend Mass regularly or consult the website they do not know requirements for godparents.
    Has anyone found a way to deal with this that won’t drive the family away? They can always find a church thAt will accept them or they may decide to forgo baptism. A lost opportunity of grace.

  9. This tentative decision has a good point: It is valid only in a diocese of the province of L’Aquila, a distance east of Rome. Attitudes towards godparents vary around the world. I recall an instruction I heard about New Yorkers of Hispanic background. “As a pastor, don’t you dare offer to find a godparent to be present at Baptism. A financial bond develops between the young family, with the parents leaning on the godparent’s position or wealth throughout the child’s upbringing. It creates a social obligation, not one of discipleship.” A few years ago, my wife and I just could not become godparents of a child 3,000 miles away and two generations behind us. Godparents should be the age of the parents or perhaps a little bit younger. Fortunately, local customs will provide insight.

  10. The answer to the problem is blindingly obvious. We need to involve the community in the celebration of the sacraments. Why does the bishop not get this?

    Instead of token people who happen to be friends of the family, what is needed is godparents who are selected from/appointed by the local church community and who will help integrate their godchildren into the life of that community.

    While my own godfather, a classmate of my dad and a lawyer by profession, was very helpful to me not only in childhood but later on, I can only recall ever seeing my godmother once, when I was tiny. She showed no interest in me thereafter, made no attempt to get in contact, and never answered my letters.

    1. We seem to have a culture where being a Godparent is seen as an act of patronage that denotes the importance of that person to the parents of the baby. With the increasing popularity of secular naming ceremonies in the UK and the decline in baptisms I see this becoming a less frequent issue for priests.

  11. In our part of the world, godparents do play a vital role in the spiritual growth and emotional development of their godchild. Even in his place of jurisdiction, in time to come, the Right Reverend Bishop Fusco may have to re-consider his act.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *