An Italian bishop has scrapped the figures of godparents in baptisms and sponsors in confirmations, arguing that the people frequently chosen for these duties “are not fully aware of the role to which they are called”.
– Participation of sponsors in sacraments “a kind of formal fulfillment in which the dimension of faith is hardly visible”
The diocese of Sulmona-Valva, in central Italy, made known July 16 the decision of the bishop, Michele Fusco, to promulgate a decree ad experimentum taking effect August 1 and in force for the next three years eliminating the figures of sponsors from the rites of those two sacraments of initiation.
“The Church’s pastoral action is always called to look at the changing socio-cultural contexts in which it is embedded, and to consider the continuous change that such contexts bring with them”, Fusco wrote in the decree, adding that “the reflection on the figure of the godfather, godmother and sponsor falls within this perspective”.
The presence of these people in these roles in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation often “is a kind of formal fulfillment in which the dimension of faith is hardly visible”, the bishop went on.
He observed that the decision to take on the duties of sponsor “is usually made with different criteria and purposes (family relationships, friendship, interest, etc.), without considering the specific role that the sponsor is called to play in transmitting the faith that he or she must live in the first person in order to bear witness to it”.
“In addition, the complex family situations of so many people proposed for the carrying out of this task makes the issue even more sensitive”, the bishop noted.
Taking into account the changing socio-cultural contexts in which the Church finds itself, along with the apparently less than purely Christian motives for which people agree to be sponsors for baptisms and confirmations, Bishop Fusco also recalled that the Code of Canon Law, on the figure of the sponsor, “indicates the possibility of their presence but not the obligation” to include them in the rites.
The bishop noted, however, that where the Church is silent on the obligation to include sponsors in baptisms and confirmations, its laws do clearly state the qualities required of the people who take on these roles: that is, that they live “a life in conformity with the faith and the task to be assumed and [are] free from canonical impediments”.
– Hope decision will bring “new vigour” to witness, education of catechumens
For all those reasons, then, Fusco explained that “… given that many godparents, even if they are good people, are not fully aware of the role to which they are called… [and] with the favorable opinion of the Presbyteral Council… I decree ‘ad experimentum’ the abolition for three years of sponsors in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation”.
Conscious of the fact that his move is likely to cause disappointment among the faithful, Fusco concluded his decree with an appeal to priests “to properly illustrate to the parish communities the path taken to reach this decision”.
Insisting on the fact that his decree was the result of discussions with priests, catechists and laypeople, the bishop expressed his hope that the “collegial decision” to eliminate baptism and confirmation sponsors “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”.