Godparents: What Is Required?
What are the requirements for being a godparent? Do both godparents
have to be Catholic? Must there be a man and a woman? Can godparents be changed
later if the first ones turn out not to be very good role models?
A: Canon 874, #1, of the present Code of Canon Law says that the person
be appointed by the person to be baptized, his/her parents or the
parish priest and be suitable for the role and have the intention of fulfilling
be at least 16 years old unless the local bishop sets a different
age or the parish priest considers that there is a just reason for an exception,
be a Catholic, be confirmed and have made his/her
First Communion and “lives a life of faith which befits the role to be undertaken,”
not be under any canonical penalty, and
not be the father or mother of the person who is to be baptized.
Canon 874, #2, indicates that at least one of the godparents must
be a Catholic. In fact, only one godparent is required (Canon 873).
When there are two godparents, they need to be a man and a woman
so that the newly baptized will have a role model for each gender. Should the
original sponsors later turn out not to be good role models in Catholic faith,
the best solution is to find better role models and involve them more closely
in the baptized person’s life. Under some circumstances, paperwork at the parish
where a Baptism is registered can be changed. Doing that, however, will change
little unless better role models have already been identified.
Our Catholic Update “Godparents
and Sponsors: What Is Expected of Them Today?” by William
Wegher, can be read at www.AmericanCatholic.org.
We also publish Elizabeth Bookser Barkley’s book When
You Are a Godparent and the video Infant
Baptism: A Gift to the Community. Copies of the
Catholic Update, book or video can be ordered through
our Web site or by phoning 1-800-488-0488.
How Are Bishops Selected?
Q: How are bishops appointed in the United
States? Does this vary from other parts of the world? Are Roman Catholic bishops
appointed the same way as Eastern Catholic bishops?
A: The 178 Latin-rite dioceses and archdioceses in the United States
are grouped into 31 ecclesiastical provinces. In most cases these include a
single state; a few include several states. Only California has two archdioceses
(Los Angeles and San Francisco).
Periodically, the bishops in an ecclesiastical province meet to suggest
names of priests who could be appointed bishop. They discuss the men proposed
and pass their assessment on to the nuncio, the pope’s representative in Washington,
D.C. The nuncio sends a questionnaire to people who know these priests well,
asking for assessments in several categories.
When the head of a diocese requests an auxiliary bishop, he draws
up a list of three names (not limited to priests already suggested), rates them
and sends them to the nuncio.
When a bishop is needed to head a diocese, the nuncio
consults with the bishops of the ecclesiastical province
to which that diocese belongs, with the president of the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (who has a three-year
term) and with others as the nuncio wishes.
In time, he will send three names (and his evaluation of each) to
the Congregation of Bishops in Rome. That congregation has bishop-members, appointed
by the pope, who meet almost weekly—except during the summer. The members study
the recommendations already made and submit their preferred candidate and two
alternate candidates to the pope, who is free to ask the congregation to consider
other candidates and propose other names. In the end, the pope makes the choice.
In countries under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelization
of Peoples, that congregation enters into the process. The same is true for
areas under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Eastern Churches. In a
few cases, the Holy See’s Secretariat of State is involved.
The procedure followed in the United States is basically the same
one followed in other parts of the world now. In a few European dioceses, the
cathedral chapter (a group of priests from the diocese) has the right to propose
three names as head of the diocese, but the final choice is still made by the
In the 19th and 20th centuries, certain governments had concordats
(treaties) with the Holy See, giving those governments a role in appointing
bishops. In most cases, more recent concordats have cancelled that role. In
some countries, the pope’s representative is called an apostolic delegate because
the Holy See and that country do not have formal diplomatic relations. In that
case, the apostolic delegate does the nuncio’s work described above.
In some Eastern Catholic Churches, a bishop is elected by its synod
of bishops; the pope then expresses his approval by expressing “ecclesial communion”
with the new bishop.
Origins of the Celibacy Rule
Q: When did the Roman Catholic Church begin
to require celibacy before a man could be ordained a priest? Why? Doesn’t this
suggest that marriage is inferior to celibacy? Why doesn't the Roman Catholic
Church allow a married clergy as do the Eastern Churches (Orthodox and Catholic)?
A: By itself, a decision to remain single
could mean very different things (great selfishness, great generosity or inability
to choose a spouse).
In Matthew 19:12, Jesus praises a celibacy practiced “for the sake
of the Kingdom.” Optional, lifelong celibacy for men became more common with
Egypt’s desert hermits in the third century. By the year 303, the Council of
Elvira (southern Spain) had prohibited sexual intercourse between a married
priest and his wife. By the mid-fourth century, marriage after ordination started
to be prohibited.
There are various reasons—influence of cultic purity laws for Old
Testament priests, possible conflict over inheriting Church property, the teaching
of Jesus cited above and St. Paul’s teaching on celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
The Orthodox Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches ordain married
men as priests but select bishops from monks who have already made a lifelong
promise of celibacy. A married priest who becomes a widower may not remarry.
The Second Lateran Council (1139) made celibacy mandatory for future
priests in the Western Church.
In the last 40 years the Catholic Church has allowed some married,
Protestant ministers to be ordained priests after they became Catholics. Most
of these priests are not in full-time parish ministry.
In 1967 through his encyclical On Priestly Celibacy, Pope
Paul VI reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s rule about this. Section 1579 of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “accepted with a joyous heart
celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.”
A gospel-based celibacy does not devalue marriage; it is another
way of serving the Lord. What matters most for both vowed celibates and married
people is generous faithfulness.
The Sorrowful Mother
Q: I recently came across the title "Our Lady of Sorrows" for Mary. I've never heard of this before and wonder about its origin and meaning.
A: According to the Dictionary
of Catholic Devotions, by Michael Walsh (HarperSanFrancisco,
1993), this title started to be used in the 12th century,
but devotion to Mary as the Sorrowful Mother became more
widespread in the 14th century, the era of the Black Death,
the bubonic plague which killed off a third of Europe’s
population. Her feast is celebrated on September 15.
As someone who experienced great sorrow during her life, Mary can
help people currently experiencing great suffering. Devotion to Mary as the
Sorrowful Mother says that God never abandons those who suffer, though at times
that may be how they feel.
In portraying Mary while holding Christ’s body after it was taken
down from the cross, Michelangelo and other artists have shown a faith-filled
moment amid intense pain. To women and others who have experienced similar suffering
(for example, many mothers in Latin America), the Sorrowful Mother devotion
still speaks very powerfully.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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