Duly vested, Don Camillo approached the font.’What do you wish to name this child?’ he asked Peppone’s wife.
‘Lenin Libero Antonio,’ she replied.
‘Then go and get him baptized in Russia,’ said Camillo calmly, replacing the cover on the font.
The priest’s hands were as large as shovels and the three left the church without protest. But as Don Camillo was attempting to slip into the sacristy he was arrested by the voice of the Lord.
‘Don Camillo, you have done a very wicked thing. Go at once and bring those people back and baptize their child.’
‘But Lord,’ protested Don Camillo, ‘You really must bear in mind that baptism is not a jest. Baptism is a sacred matter. Baptism is…’
‘Don Camillo, the Lord interrupted him, ‘Are attempting to teach me the nature of baptism? Did I not invent it? I tell you that you have been guilty of gross presumption, because, suppose that child were to die at this moment, it would be your fault if it failed to attain Paradise !’
‘Lord, do not let us be melodramatic,’ retorted Don Camillo. ‘Why in the name of Heaven should it die? It’s as pink and white as a rose !’
‘Which means exactly nothing!’ the Lord admonished him. ‘What if a tile should fall on its head or it should suddenly have convulsions? It was your duty to baptize it.’
Don Camillo raised protesting arms: ‘But Lord, just think it over. If it were certain that the child would go to Hell, we might stretch a point; but seeing that despite being the son of that nasty piece of work he might very easily manage to slip into Paradise, how can You ask me to risk anyone going there with such a name as Lenin? I’m thinking of the reputation of Paradise.’
‘The reputation of Paradise is my business,’ the Lord shouted angrily. ‘What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button. At the very most, you should have pointed out to those people that saddling children with fantastic names may involve them in annoyances when they grow up.’
‘Very well,’ replied Don Camillo. ‘I am always in the wrong. I must see what I can do about it.’
from “The Baptism”, The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi
I was a bit surprised to read Dr. Ed Peters’ posts on the set of baptisms at which Pope Francis recently officiated, in which one of the babies baptized was the child of two parents who are not married in the Church. Peters is cautious about the precedent being set. In his first post on the topic he wrote:
First, unlike the foot-washing episode last Holy Week (here and here), the pope’s actions today occasion no reason to think that canon or liturgical law has been—what’s the right word?—disregarded, for no canon or liturgical law forbids baptizing the babies of unmarried couples, etc. Indeed, Church law generally favors the administration of sacraments and, in the case of baptism, it requires only that there be “a founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic (1983 CIC 868 § 1, 2º). A minister could certainly discern ‘founded hope’ for a Catholic upbringing under these circumstances and outsiders should not second-guess his decision.
But here’s the rub: a minister could also arrive at precisely the opposite conclusion on these facts and, equally in accord with the very same Church law, he could delay the baptism. I know of many pastors who have reached this conclusion and who used the occasion of a request for a baby’s baptism to assist the parents toward undertaking their duties in a more responsible manner, including helping them to regularize their marriage status in the Church, resume attendance at Sunday Mass, participate fully in the sacraments, and so on.
Now, if the pope’s action today was as reported (again, we don’t know that yet), pastors who delay a baby’s baptism in order to help reactivate the Faith in the baby’s parents are going to have a harder time doing that as word gets out about the pope’s (apparently) different approach to the rite. Whether that was the message Francis intended to send is irrelevant to whether that is the message that he seems to have sent.
In his second post he elaborates on why he is more concerned about the situation of parents married outside the Church than about single mothers — Pope Francis being famous for having emphasized back in Argentina that priests should not refuse to baptize the children of single mothers:
Quite simply, being an unwed mother is not sinful. Besides the fact that the acts by which a single woman became pregnant (assuming they were objectively sinful in the first place) could have been repented of long before the baby comes for baptism, a variety of circumstances could result in there being no sin associated with the pregnancy whatsoever, let alone with motherhood! I don’t know what priests might be like in Argentina, but I am very sure I have never heard of an American priest withholding baptism from a baby based solely on the fact that the mother of said baby was not married. A pastor could well arrive at a founded hope that the child of such a mother could be raised Catholic and proceed with the baptism in accord with Canon 868.
But the situation of Catholics actually married outside the Church is quite different. Setting aside my concerns that canonical form itself has become a pastoral stumbling block, I know how the law on canonical form currently reads and that, in the great majority of cases in which canonical form is violated, the Catholics involved are in objective grave sin and give scandal by their state. From that fact, it seems quite plausible to me that a pastor might delay the baptism of the child of such parents until, also in accord with Canon 868, a founded hope that the child could be raised Catholic is attained.
Certainly, I recognize that baptism of an infant should represent (on the part of the parents) a serious intention to raise their child as an active and believing Catholic. But it seems to me important to be clear on why that is. By being baptize, an infant is made a member of the Church, of Christ’s body on earth. To attain the purpose for which we are all created (to know, love and serve God, and to be happy with Him one day in heaven) the child must be shown how to live the faith and instructed in the faith’s beliefs. Parents who do not make an effort to bring up their children in the faith they were baptized into do those children a great wrong. And so, it makes sense to use what leverage the Church has to try to make sure that the parents understand those responsibilities before baptizing their child, and that the parents commit to making that effort.
However, baptism is not a reward for being committed to raising your child in the faith. And at the end of the day, while it’s important that the Church strive to draw from the parents a commitment to raise their child in the faith, it seems to me that the Church also has a solemn duty to baptize those who come (or are brought) to it seeking baptism. This is where I found myself kind of perplexed by Dr. Peters’ take:
Final point: Lost in this whole discussion has been, I fear, any recognition of the fact that, while baptism is of great value, it is also to take on very serious, life-long duties. Imposing via baptism those burdens on a child who is at heightened risk of not receiving adequate assistance in the Faith, and on some parents who in public respects seem ill-equipped to live the very Faith they want passed on to their children, is itself pastorally problematic, no?
Now, maybe I’m an odd mix of old fashioned and new, but it seems to me that the value of baptism should much outweigh its obligations when thinking this through. While the Church emphasizes God’s mercy and thus trusts that God must deal mercifully with those who, though unbaptized, have to the best of their ability lived a good life: we also say that the only way that we know people receive the graces necessary for salvation is through baptism.
This is one of the reasons that we’ve always made sure that our children are baptized as soon as possible after birth. (William at just five days.) No, I don’t believe that if our child somehow died without baptism, that God would consign him to limbo or to hell. I believe that God’s love and mercy finds ways to work in such situations. But I would much, much rather that they be baptized. If we are right in believing that baptism washes away original sin and infuses the soul with God’s grace, then it makes a difference.
As such, it seems to me presumptuous and risky to take the approach that since we can count on God’s mercy and love towards those who aren’t baptized, we should hold off baptizing a child we’re not sure will be properly raised in the faith so as not to impose the obligations of being a Catholic on that child. It seems to me that in doing so, we put that child’s soul at risk. We deny the child the graces of the sacrament, we leave him with the stain of original sin. Even if his upbringing is not as well formed in the faith as we could hope, it seems to me that we must believe that the graces of baptism will make a different in that child’s life, and a difference that we should not deny.
So while it seems entirely appropriate to take action to try to impress on parents who bring their child to be baptized that they must raise their child in the faith, I am very skeptical of the idea of telling parents (whatever the state of their marriage or lack thereof) who bring their child to be baptized that we refuse.