It is amazing how much confusion surrounds the topic of godparents for Baptism (and sponsors for Confirmation).There seems to be little understanding about their role and their needed qualifications. So, to help alleviate the confusion, I thought I'd review some of the basic facts.
The role of godparents was invented by the Church. There is nothing in Scripture which explicitly states their use. The Church created this function to help insure that those who were preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation) would have a personal guide who was both knowledgeable about the Faith and was an example of a faithful Catholic.
Today, however, many parents think they can choose their best friend or their favorite relative regardless of the person's relationship to Christ and His Church. Although the role of a godparent is an honor, it is also a responsibility with spiriual obligations. Someone who is not practicing the Faith cannot fulfill the responsibilities to be an intercessor for the godchild, and a role model of someone living the Faith. Parents are spiritually handicapping their children when they insist on choosing a person who is not qualified. Can you imagine picking on the basis of friendship a person who could not swim to act as a lifeguard for your children at a pool? The same applies to godparents. They have a vital role in the faith-life of the child which they must be able to fulfill.
Godparents are not chosen with the understanding that they would adopt the child if something were to happen to the parents. That is a Catholic Urban Legend. Their role is to pray for the godchild and give example of what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ, a practicing Catholic. Therefore, to qualify as a godparent, one must be attending Mass each Sunday, living a moral life, be at least 14 years of age, be Confirmed, and if married, the marriage must have the Church's blessing. Those Catholics who have had a civil marriage or have been married in another religious ceremony without the permission of the Bishop are not married in the eyes of God. In the eyes of the government they are married, but in the eyes of the Church they are only living together.
Although only one godparent is necessary, you may have two, one male, one female (not two of the same gender). The godparents mirror the role of the natural parents (male and female) and therefore are limited to two at most, one of each gender.
A non-baptized person can never act as a godparent. A baptized Christian (who is not Catholic) may act as a Christian Witness in conjunction with a Catholic godparent, but is not, strictly speaking, a godparent.
It is the responsibility of the parish priest/deacon to insure that only qualified men and women are admitted as godparents. To insure this, when a person is asked to be a godparent, he/she must be interviewed by his/her parish priest and receive a sponsor certificate stating that this person fulfills the requirements explained above. The same criteria also exist in choosing a sponsor for Confirmation. Ideally, one's godparents from Baptism would be most fitting sponsors for Confirmation, but another may be chosen. Parents may not act as godparents/sponsors for their own children.
I pray that each of us may respect these laws of the Church so that we may do our part in helping to build the Kingdom of God.