Can a Priest Refuse to Baptize an Infant? : LUSENET : Catholic : One Thread

I was reading a question/answer over on EWTN recently and to make a long story short one of the questions was: Can an unmarried couple who are living together have their newborn baby baptized in the Catholic Church?

Fr. Rice answered the question in this way: “Any pastor is going to be, at least, very reluctant to baptize their child when they are not living in a Sacramental Union. Canon Law requires that there needs to be solid reason to believe that they will bring the child up Catholic. Yet they, themselves, are not living the Faith.”

Since Baptism is necessary for salvation, this answer was both puzzling and disturbing to me. Is this an accurate response in describing the Church’s position in this instance? Is Baptism all about whether parents live moral lives or, is Baptism the gateway to life for the one being baptized? The blood and water that flowed from Jesus side on the cross symbolizes baptism and the Eucharist - the Sacraments of new life. Isn’t the priest unfairly depriving the child of his gift from God? Isn’t it God’s will that all men be saved? St. Paul says, the only way we can rise in Christ is to be buried in baptism in His death. He didn’t qualify this by saying provided our parents are moral. If the parents are not living upright and moral lives, is that not why Godparents are appointed? To assure the child receives proper training in the faith? Additionally, I have not been able to find the section in Canon Law that states, “there needs to be solid reason to believe that they will bring the child up Catholic”.

I have never heard of a priest refusing Baptism to a child because he felt its parents were living immorally. In a recent marriage course offered by our diocese, of the twenty couples who were to be married, only six were not living together. No one refused to marry these couples because they were of the opinion they were not morally ready for the sacrament. Why then, should anyone refuse to baptize a baby because they feel the parents are not living an upright and moral life? Are there different rules for different sacraments? Young couples today in my opinion, on average, marry or cohabitate far too young in life anyway and this could be the reason for the increase marriage annulments in the Catholic Church. Have the couples who are living together now and planning to marry had a significant recent change in moral attitude? Perhaps some have. But it is been my experience that couples grow into Christ over the years, and while there is a grace that accompanies every sacrament, there is no instant conversion or rebirth at the point of receiving one of the sacraments. Isn’t the fact that this couple asked that their child be baptized evidence enough of their desire for the child to be brought up Catholic? The priest is denying the child God’s most beautiful and magnificent gifts - grace and salvation. Rather than turning the child away, isn’t it the job of the priest to school the parents in the meaning of their faith and the sacrament?

The Church tells us to pray for salvation and trust in God’s mercy for those who die without Baptism. This child is in a state of Original Sin. What if the child dies shortly afterward, is there such a thing a “Baptism by a priestly ‘un-desire” to baptize? I realize I am being facetious here but, I think you get my point. Even an abandoned infant needs to be baptized according to Church regulation. The priest’s answer puzzled me somewhat and I would like your opinions on the matter

Here are some pertinent quotes from Canon Law:

Can. 849 Baptism, the gateway to the sacraments, is necessary for salvation, either by actual reception or at least by desire.

Can. 851 2°̊ the parents of a child who is to be baptized, and those who are to undertake the office of sponsors, are to be suitably instructed on the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations attaching to it. The parish priest is to see to it that either he or others duly prepare the parents, by means of pastoral advice and indeed by prayer together; a number of families might be brought together for this purpose and, where possible, each family visited.

Can. 864 Every unapprised person, and only such a person, can be baptized.

Can. 867 §§1 Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child, and to be themselves duly prepared for it.

Can. 868 §§2 An infant of catholic parents, indeed even of non-Catholic parents, may in danger of death be baptized even if the parents are opposed to it.

Can. 870 An abandoned infant or a foundling is to be baptized unless diligent enquiry establishes that it has already been baptized.

-- Ed (, April 08, 2003


Response to Can a Priest Refuse to Bapitze an Infant?

"I baptize thee, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..."

-- Ed (, April 08, 2003.

Response to Can a Priest Refuse to Bapitze an Infant?


Christian churches have different practices on Baptism. The Catholic, Orthodox and many mainline Protestant churches will baptize infants (as well as adults who come to faith without having been baptized as infants). Some other denominations (like the Baptists) will baptize only adults (or believers), although the young age at which some will baptize children belies the adult label.

For the purposes of this discussion, let us assume the validity and even propriety of the baptism of infants. However, for the baptism of infants to have any meaning the child must be baptized into a community of faith: the faith of the church and the faith of the parents.

I am a Roman Catholic layman with some theological training, but am not directly involved in any baptismal programs. I have heard RC priests comment on the difficulties of having parents arrive or phone to make arrangements for the Baptism of their new-born without any previous connection with the church.

Without getting into the unknown-to-me details of a case of the unmarried parents presenting their child for baptism, the complaint about the priest's "refusing" to baptize a child ("delay" would be a better and more hopeful word) is misplaced.

While I approve of the baptism of infants of active, believing Christian parents, to baptize an infant whose parents have shown no interest in the church in the past and may not in the future, risks turning baptism into a MAGIC action, not a sacramental one. Needless to say, the judgment of the potential minister of Baptism is not an easy one, but it is an essential one.

In the Roman Catholic Church canon law (canon 868) states as one of the requirements for a licit baptism of an infant: "there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such a hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be put off according to the particular law and the parents are to be informed of the reason."

This is not just legalism, but an attempt to "delay" the baptism (rather than "refuse") until the parents may be able to justify why their child should be baptized. If they aren't practicing the faith, why baptize the child into it? I understand from priests that this situation is one of the most difficult in pastoral ministry.

But it is a necessary requirement to prevent baptism from being a mockery. In the Roman Catholic Rite of Baptism of an Infant, the celebrant says to the parents: "You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him [her] in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him [her] up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbors. Do you understand what you are undertaking?" There are other places in the rite which also explicitly affirm the faith and faith obligations of the parents.

If the parents are unable to make such a commitment to the faith, the child's baptism should be delayed (without any prejudice to the child!) until either the parents can or the child him/herself is old enough.

Again, in all this, I am not judging the particular case of the reported unmarried couple whose child the priest is said to have "refused" to baptize. Making such decisions is part of the leadership duties in the church. Just being unmarried parents might not be sufficient cause to delay the baptism, but if, for example, they never worship with the community on Sunday, never show any other interest in the church, are unwilling to attend the baptismal preparation program which most parishes have, then a Catholic priest will certainly be justified, even required, to delay the Baptism.

-- Edward Pothier (, April 08, 2003.

Response to Can a Priest Refuse to Bapitze an Infant?

This question arose in a thread a number of months ago showing both pros and cons regarding the issue. My stand is first of all the priest is a judgemental fool ot think a newborn has sin in his/her heart.

We learn sin through exposure to it. The first sin of this child would be the refusal of a loving forgiving God. What would Christ say to that priest I ask?

-- jean bouchard (, April 08, 2003.

Response to Can a Priest Refuse to Bapitze an Infant?

One would be a fool indeed to think that "a newborn has sin in his/her heart". However, no priest thinks that. Neither does anyone else. Baptism of the innocent is not for the forgiveness of their personal sins, since they have none, but for the healing of that legacy of sinfulness which became part of the human condition when the first humans sinned, and for the endowment of sanctifying grace, which makes a person a member of God's family, the Church, and an heir of heaven.

-- Paul (, April 09, 2003.

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