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Can you change godparents after a baptism?

Jeffrey Bruno
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Here’s part of an e-mail that arrived this morning:

My son was Baptized at the Church in 2015. We had initially chose the Godparents but there was a change in Godfather last minute. My brother (initial Godfather) did not attend the Baptism and ignored my request to show that day. Also ignored me for almost one year. My best friend stood in place that day, assuring us my son would have a Godfather present. Luckily I have good friends who would do anything for me. My brother and I have reconciled from that day but if I may, I would like to request a new Baptism Certificate with the correct Godfather name on there.

My brother could not make it because of money. He lives in Chicago. Even though I offered to split the cost. He chose to behave in an immature way by ignoring the Baptism, no call no show, after he agreed to be the Godfather.

As a good Roman Catholic individual, I have forgiven him. However, because of those circumstances, my wife and I have decided to have my best friend be Godfather. This would really mean alot to us, especially my wife, if we could have a new Baptism Certificate.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this request.

This issue comes up a couple times a year.

Short answer: no can do.

People don’t quite realize that a godparent is more than a ceremonial role. It comes with responsibilities and expectations. And, in a way, it’s similar to being the witness at a marriage. It’s a matter of historical record. You can’t change the name of your best man or maid of honor (or the priest or deacon who presided) after the fact. It is what it is.

And there’s really no canonical provision for this sort of thing anyway.

Three years ago, Michelle Arnold had this response over at Catholic Answers: 

Because the godparent is an official witness to the baptism of the child, it is not an office for which a “replacement” can be made. It is not possible to go back and “redo” the sacrament of baptism, substituting in new and improved godparents. Once a choice is made, parents are stuck with that choice. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.

Father Kenneth Doyle at CNS had this advice to someone in similar circumstances:

You are not allowed to change your daughter’s godparents. They are the ones who served as official witnesses to her baptism and the ones who, at the time, along with the parents, asked to have the child baptized into the church. Their names are inscribed on your daughter’s baptismal certificate and in the parish’s baptismal registry, and history cannot be undone.

However, you understand correctly the proper role of godparents, which is to assure the religious and spiritual development of the child, particularly if anything should happen to the parents, and there are some options.

You could ask someone else to step into that role, perhaps a trusted friend or family member who might serve as an example of religious fidelity and help guide your daughter’s growth as a Catholic.

Also, in a few years, your daughter will receive the sacrament of confirmation, and although the church’s Code of Canon Law in No. 893.2 says that it is “desirable” to have the same sponsor as at baptism, it is not required.

So you could pick someone else as the confirmation sponsor. That new person would then become responsible for monitoring your daughter’s religious development and, in many parishes, would attend confirmation preparation classes with your daughter.

Best advice to people picking godparents for their children: choose wisely and carefully. Make it someone who can model the Catholic faith, and who is invested in the role—someone who will take it seriously and live it faithfully. I remember once asking my mother how they picked the man who was my godfather. “He was a good man, a good Catholic man,” she said. And indeed he was.

Deacon Greg Kandra
The Deacon's Bench
Deacon Greg Kandra is a Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. For nearly three decades, he was a writer and producer for CBS News, where he contributed to a variety of programs and was honored with every major award in broadcasting. Deacon Greg now serves as Multimedia Editor for Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA.) He and his wife live in Forest Hills, New York.
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