An Italian bishop has banned the practice of having sponsors at the sacrament of Confirmation, lamenting that the people chosen by candidates are often too “sinful” for the role.

Driving the news

As the local Umbria edition of paper Il Messaggero reported Janaury 18, Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia has signed a decree prohibiting Confirmation sponsors – the people that present the confirmand to the bishop in the rite, and promise to help him or her grow in the faith – for a trial period of three years.

Boccardo also restored Confirmation and First Communion to that traditional order, one after the other, but it’s the ban on Confirmation sponsors that has caused the most controversy.

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The archbishop explained his decision in these euphemistic words: “The complex or irregular family situation of many people proposed to carry out the role [of Confirmation sponsor] makes the question… delicate”.

In other words: Boccardo believes Confirmation sponsors in his diocese are being chosen more out of social and family custom than for being exemplary religious models, and he wants to stamp out that practice.

Why it matters

In this changing social-cultural context, in many aspiring Confirmation godfathers and godmothers “the dimension of faith continues to be next to invisible”, Boccardo wrote.

“Chosen habitually according to criteria and ends distinct from those of the Church, it seems [the sponsors often chosen] are neither fully aware nor totally suitable to play an effective and credible role in the transmission of the faith with the testimony of their lives”, the archbishop lamented.

Il Messaggero noted, too, that in many Confirmations the sponsors chosen are separated, divorced, co-habiting outside of marriage or are even non-Catholics, a fact that puts parish priests in the uncomfortable position of having to reject them for the role of sponsor, since these lifestyles fall outside of those officially sanctioned by the Church.

It is precisely those parish priests of Spoleto-Norcia those who are most firmly behind the ban, voting unanimously as they did in a presbyteral council meeting last November for the “suspension or abolition” of Confirmation sponsors.

What’s next

From now on, then, the sacrament of Confirmation in the Spoleto-Norcia diocese will be carried out as it already takes place in the parish of San Martino in Trignano, for example.

In that church, parish priest Gianfranco Formenton – frustrated with having to reject unsuitable sponsor candidates – has implemented a policy of having only parish priests and catechists present the confirmation candidate to the bishop, instead of friends or family members.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.