Should ex-Catholics play a sacramental role?

Friday, September 09, 2016 - Updated: 7:00 am

QUESTION: My daughter would like to have her aunt as a sponsor for confirmation. The problem is that her aunt, although raised as a Catholic, now attends a large non-denominational church near her home. She is close to my daughter and I believe she will be a great role model. Can she be her sponsor?

ANSWER: It is important to distinguish two very different aspects of the question. In ordinary daily life, I assume that the aunt can and will be a fine role model for her niece of the social virtues and other aspects of life. It is an entirely different matter to speak of the role that this same aunt will play in her Catholic sacramental and spiritual life.

The sacrament of confirmation in the Catholic Church requires that a person have a sponsor. The sponsor is not merely a witness of the celebration of the sacrament but an active part in it. Their presence indicates their own commitment to the church and their willingness to live a life that is in union with the church and a good example of Catholic sacramental life for the person confirmed.

I cannot see how a person who has left the Catholic Church can stand as a sacramental role model. This is even more so when that person now belongs to a faith community that likely does not celebrate sacraments. In addition, it must be candidly asked what kind of Catholic identity can be conveyed by someone who has left the church?

I am clearly aware of the openness, hospitality and mercy that Pope Francis is asking of all of us for those who come to the Catholic Church. This is in no way a judgment about or against anyone, but a simple statement of what is required of a person who wishes to assume a specific sacramental role within the church.

People who choose to leave the Catholic Church are making a decision about the church and frankly about the people who remain in it. They are, of course, free to do so, but by that decision they have also chosen to disassociate themselves from what the church does (including the sacraments). This means that they cannot just “stop by” occasionally and take an active part in Catholic sacraments. It is not that the Catholic Church is specifically excluding them, but that they have chosen to exclude themselves.

Are they welcome back? Of course. But it can’t be just for a day or an event. Their return to sacramental union with the church is our hope. But some kind of commitment is also required.

Priests are not playing God. Their role is not only the proper celebration of sacraments, but ensuring that the sacraments are celebrated by those who are properly motivated and prepared to receive them. That “gatekeeper” responsibility must be handled with prudence and discretion, but it cannot be ignored for the sake of making everyone happy.

One’s family ties are certainly important and must be respected, but the ties that bind Catholics in the faith family of the church must also be respected.

Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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