Jews and baptismal sponsors

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Question Corner

Q. Some time ago, in one of your columns, you wrote that, "the attitude of Catholics toward Jews ought to be one of respect and gratitude. Christianity was built upon the foundation of Judaism. (Pius XI said that 'spiritually we are all Semites.')" Why, then, is it Catholic law that those of the Jewish faith cannot act as godfather (or as Christian witness) in the rite of baptism? (Detroit)

A. The church's Code of Canon Law (Canon 874) provides that at least one baptismal sponsor be a baptized, confirmed and practicing Catholic, 16 years of age or older, who is living a life in conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The reason is that the role of a baptismal sponsor is not only to support a child's Catholic faith but to serve as a Christian role model.

If one of the sponsors is Catholic, the other one can in fact be a baptized non-Catholic -- but that person is then technically not called a godparent but a "Christian witness." One of the duties of a baptismal sponsor is to assist the child's parents in passing on the Christian faith.

At the celebration of the sacrament, the parents and godparents are asked to profess publicly their faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. A Jewish or Muslim friend, for example, might well be an outstanding moral individual, but that person would not be able to profess the personal belief in the Trinity, which is required of a sacramental sponsor.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoy[email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.