Earlier this year I walked into Book Club saying something to a friend who I saw earlier that day at Mass. It’d been quite some time since we’d seen each other and that Sunday had become the day for catching up. We were talking about the homily and the fact that our associate was out on medical leave for a month. Then another woman at the table said, “Well, earlier this week my daughter had a pretty negative encounter at the parish.”
Like any former (or current) church worker, I asked her to tell me more about it. Her daughter (who is 20, pregnant, and keeping the baby) went in to the office to inquire about having the child baptized in the weeks after the birth. She wanted the details so she could attend the classes and gather any paperwork beforehand. She came away completely dejected because the godparents she chose were rejected by the secretary.
I asked my friend to tell me more about what happened to see if we could find a solution. There are some reasons why someone couldn’t be a godparent, but frequently if that person is a regular Mass attendee, then it’s something that can be overcome.
She explained that she (the grandmother) was going to be the godmother and because she wan’t married in the Church, they told her it wasn’t possible. While it is true that if you are married, you must be in a valid marriage to be eligible to be a godparent, it’s not the whole story. So I asked her some probing questions about her marriage such as: Were either you or your husband married before? Where were you married? Have you ever spoken to a priest about your situation?
The answers were: No. At the courthouse. Yes, he looked at our situation and told us it was fine, we didn’t need to do anything about it.
Although that last statement isn’t quite the whole truth, the impediment for her being a godmother is fairly easy to overcome. I walked her through the steps needed for a con-validation and told her to call and make an appointment with our pastor. It should be simple enough.
The reason I’m telling you this is because this exact story is playing out in parishes all over the country. People who are striving to come back to the Church or stay in the Church are being turned away with a crude display of the rules. I’m not advocating throwing all of the rules out … but, rather, asking more probing questions to figure out how we can help parishioners and visitors enter into the Church.
The message that this young woman already has going through her mind is that she’s not welcome because she’s 20, pregnant, and not married. Instead of reinforcing that by not seeing her situation and helping her live a Christian life through it, we failed as a Church. That might seem dramatic, but it’s really a matter of whether she has her child baptized and raising her in the faith, thereby sharing the Gospel message … or she doesn’t.