Okay, so, via Deacon Greg ala the Italian press (which is you know…the Italian press), here is the latest story that has some Catholics screaming at each other in social media.
The pope baptized a baby. According to “Il Tirreno” the couple requesting baptism for their daughter Guilia may not be sacramentally married. We don’t even know if that report is accurate, or if so what circumstances may be behind the couple being only civilly wed. But that’s enough for battle amongst Catholics.
Read Deacon Greg’s post, because it includes helpful links to canon law and other information. As he writes:
Ultimately, it is left to the prudential judgment of the minister—priest, deacon, bishop or pope—to decide if there is “founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic. It’s open to debate. A significant number of families who meet with me to arrange baptisms at my parish have not been married by a Catholic priest. I try to find out why, determine what we can do to resolve that situation, and seek assurance that they are serious about their faith and serious about giving the child a Catholic upbringing. After that, it’s in the hands of God.
I often think that as people of faith we need to be more willing to believe that things are in the hands of God, and so we don’t have to get as worked up as we do. We get worked up because we love the faith, we love Christ and want to be sure neither is being disrespected or minimized, and that is certainly a fair concern, but there comes a point — in stories like this, and also when it comes to questions about which Catholics ought to be on the communion line — that I do believe we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and we must not be so insistent upon what is ideal as to scare off those who are currently falling short.
We must always be concerned, always be alert, yes, but we must always err on the side of mercy, because that is what we are called to by Christ. A wonderful example of this can be found in Calah Alexander’s conversion story, wherein a Trappist priest walked the fine line between ideals and mercy, and brought a family into the life of faith for doing it.
I just fled a social media thread of Catholics letting loose on each other because of this baptism story, but I do have an opinion.
As Deacon Greg says, we don’t even know the details and facts of this story; it IS the Italian media, after all. Maybe these parents are waiting for an annulment. Maybe one of them had a profound conversion experience after the civil marriage and is now awaiting an annulment, but wants the child baptized anyway. Shall we say, “too bad, pally, until the annulment is granted and the marriage is sacramental, this baptism can’t happen?”
Yes, it is certainly an ideal thing if a baby is baptized to parents who have been converted, sacramentally married and (best-case scenario) freshly-confessed and in a state of grace. That is a great thing — it’s worth aspiring to.
But sometimes a child’s baptism must be part of a larger process of conversion — again, think of Calah Alexander’s story. In the thread I’m discussing she said pointedly: “. . .the mercy of one priest willing to baptize [her daughter] when everyone else [spouted legalisms] was the springboard for my conversion. [Had her daughter been] refused the mercy of forgiveness because I was a sinner, I would not have converted no matter how much I believed.”
Just as a baby conceived in rape is innocent of the act and ought not be destroyed because of the sin of a progenitor, Pope Francis has made it clear that children are not to be excluded from baptism and membership in the church because their parents — for whatever reason, and we folks in the pews rarely know the full stories behind them — have not managed (yet) to pull themselves together and get it all “just right.” Think of all of the women who have aborted their babies because society has told them “that one was conceived all wrong; it should not live, because it will require something of you!” And think of the women who have chosen to give birth to those children, anyway — even if their hearts were fearful or doubting — and have, through the love that comes with new life, been healed of their wounds, “re-born” themselves and sometimes, yeah, even converted.
Someone in the thread asked if the baptism, performed by the pope, was even “licit” given the “imperfection” of the parents standing proxy. All that is required for a baptism to be licit is for the pouring of water over the head and the Trinitarian formula — “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is why even lay people can, in emergency situations, baptize. As to whether parental proxies by imperfectly-Catholic parents are licit, well, I sure hope so because when my kids were baptized I was a pretty messy Catholic, myself, and I am only marginally better, now.
There are so many Catholics who go through the motions and get the church wedding for grandma, and have the baptism because it makes a nice party and it’s “the thing we do”, culturally, but who then completely drop the ball on teaching the faith. They do little-to-nothing at home — not even grace before meals — and then yell at volunteer CCD teachers when their kids don’t know the Lord’s Prayer because it can’t be taught in 45 minute increments to a class of distracted, confused children who meet four times a month.
I’m not going to tell the pope (or any priest or deacon) that they shouldn’t baptize a baby whose parents haven’t checked off all the boxes. I’d rather see the baby claimed for Christ, the portal of grace created within the child, and hope that the parents who sought this baptism are also brought into conformity through that act of faith, however confused.
Can a baby’s baptism be used by God to convert the parents? It may seem like a lot of responsibility to put on a baby, but then again, we live in an age where most adults have never grown up; sometimes that process only begins with a baby. And it wouldn’t be the first time God has created an infant with a job to do.
For the rest of us, who fret and grow anxious and get into battle with each other every time some poorly written, half-assed article comes down the pike, let us remember to pray as did Solomon: “give me an understanding heart.”