Judge or theologian? Court determines child cannot be baptized.

This from “down under“.

Mum loses biblical row in court
by: Shelley Hadfield From: Herald Sun

A COURT has been forced to intervene in a bitter dispute between estranged parents over whether their seven-year-old daughter should be baptised.

A magistrate decided she could not yet be baptised.

He determined that the girl should make up her mind about being baptised when she was older. [Hmmm.]

In a judgment published this week, the Family Court dismissed an appeal from the mother against the ruling.

It ruled against overturning orders preventing her [I had to read that a few times.] from changing her daughter’s surname to a hyphenated name and provided for the girl to spend alternate Christmases with her dad.


The woman told the Family Court the magistrate had erred in law in making his decision that the child could not yet be baptised.

She said this was because the girl was attending a Christian school, was a practising Christian and had placed importance in the Christian faith.

Justice Thackery said the mum failed to demonstrate the magistrate’s decision was clearly wrong.

The magistrate who originally heard the case said the little girl had been asking about baptism and the mother believed it would help her fit in at school [?!] if she were baptised.  [Remember… this is a journalists version of the facts.]

“In my view, it is not necessary for (her) to be baptised in order to ‘fit in’,” the magistrate had ruled. [So the judge is a theologian, too?]

He said the father was not religious and believed a decision about baptism should be left until the girl was older so that she could have proper input. [Indeed a problem.  Both parents have rights in these matters.]

“His concern is about baptising her into a particular faith before she is able to decide for herself what religion she wishes to be part of,” the magistrate said.

I consider that is it not necessary for (the child) to be baptised at this early stage. Given the conflict between the parents on this issue, and given her tender age, this process can be safely left to a later date.”


What a can of worms.

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  1. jlmorrell says:

    The family has been destroyed by modern liberal democracy and secular culture. This is but one more story. It is unclear what age the girl is, which would be helpful to know. But, if this were my young daughter I would baptize her myself. This is not simply a matter of fitting in, but of eternal salvation.

  2. KAS says:

    The child is past the age of reason so it really isn’t the decision of either of her parents or of the judge.

  3. Baptism is a matter of salvation, why wait…guessing these people aren’t Catholic…

  4. wmeyer says:

    A fairly bizarre story, though down under, the state has inserted itself before into decisions which are none of its affair. Precisely how the magistrate, justice, or whatever, considered that baptism was a matter of “fitting in”, beggars the imagination.

    A Catholic friend of mine was faced a few years ago with the problem that his granddaughter had not been baptized, and the mother, then divorced from my friend’s son, would not permit it, that being a way of hurting her ex’s family. My friend, while having a visit with his granddaughter, performed a baptism himself, on premise of emergency, then told the mother what he had done. He notified the local parish, and since the mother had by then been thwarted, I believe she relented, and allowed the priest to make it proper according to form.

    I am not familiar with Aussie law, but it seems strange to me that the court would find that it had standing in what is clearly not a secular matter. But then, I make my living with logic (software design), not the odd rationales which lawyers consider logical.

  5. FrCharles says:

    I was so innocent when I first became a parish priest. I was shocked to discover that proving custody of children was an ordinary part of planning for an infant baptism. There really are a lot of complex situations, and a lot of sad ones too.

  6. If 7 is considered the age of reason (if this is incorrect, then someone please correct me), than the judge may (unintentionally???) have a point. Once a person reaches the age of reason, that person is responsible for their own (moral) decisions. However, children around that young age are still unable to make their own (sound) decisions, so it is the duty of the parents to see that the kid is baptized, especially since the article mentions the kid is a practicing Christian. Another problem we may have is finding godparents which would help the parents in raising the kid in the Christian faith (I say Christian because there was no mention of the mother’s denomination). Father Z is correct in that the judge made the wrong call as to say that “a decision about baptism should be left until the girl was older so that she could have proper input”. The judge’s authority is only in the (secular) legal realm, so the judge overstepped his boundaries.

  7. APX says:

    This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. There’s a YouTube video of something similar in the US.

    The mother did err in saying she wanted to baptize the child so she would fit in at school.

  8. Philangelus says:

    and the mother believed it would help her fit in at school if she were baptised.

    No. It seems to me that if your reason for baptizing your daughter is so she can better conform to the world, you might just want to hold off on that baptism anyhow. :-(

  9. Ana says:

    If the mother wants her child baptised to “fit in at school” as stated in the article, then maybe the baptism should be delayed anyway. Fitting in is not a reason for being baptised. The judge didn’t play the role of theologian, the mother did and failed miserably — the judge simply went along that route and ruled in accordance with what was presented to him. If the mother had said, “this is a matter of salvation for our daughter and we discussed this prior to having children as baptising children is part of my faith,” things may have gone differently.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Well, my bad, I overlooked that it was the mother concerned about “fitting in.” Still, I can’t think of a good reason to delay baptism, if the child is above the age of reason, and has expressed a desire, even indirectly by regular study and attendance at church. The view of the magistrate would be supportable only if there were risk of harm to the child through baptism, and clearly, the case is opposite to that.

  11. Robert_H says:

    She said this was because the girl was attending a Christian school, was a practising Christian and had placed importance in the Christian faith.

    The magistrate who originally heard the case said the little girl had been asking about baptism and the mother believed it would help her fit in at school if she were baptised.

    My guess is the mum is worried about “fitting in” because the child’s fellow students at her Christian school are teasing or bullying her about not being baptized.

    I think if the child is past the age of reason and is asking about baptism, she should be baptized. The father seems to be using this to punish the mum. I mean, if he’s right […the father was not religious…] and religion/baptism is nonsense, what harm is there to letting a priest pour water on her head and recite some prayers? You can’t have it both ways – either it’s nonsense and you’re just being a jerk; or it’s the Truth and her soul is at stake…and you’re just being a jerk.

  12. This is a prime example of (a) the destructive powers of divorce, and (b) why the Catholic Church has always frowned upon mixed marriages (i.e., spouses not the same religion). It sounds as if neither party is Catholic, but regardless, this is a cautionary tale that tells us why, in matters of marriage as in all else, we need to listen to our Mother.

  13. Tom Esteban says:

    I think some of you are not reading between the lines.

    The whole “fitting in” thing to me is probably just the only defense this poor lady had in this (overly) secular court. You really think that saying “my daughter needs this for salvation” would actually do any good whatsoever in a court of law in this day and age? She’d more than likely have the child taken away from her if that was the reason she gave in court (and I don’t believe that is an exaggeration, I could see it happening – labeling the parent as a whacky Christian as a way to justify giving her zero custody). I think this was their best option. I may be wrong, though… but who goes to court over fitting in? Seems obvious to me the mother actually values the sacrament and her childs salvation.

    Whatever the case may be, this is so sad. Absolutely terrible, and it is only the beginning. Remember a few years ago when it was only an extreme minority that believed raising a child as a Christian was child abuse? That thought has grown and grown and grown. Give it 20 years and they’ll be making children orphans because their parents have a Bible in the house.

    This poor child needs our prayers. I pray that she may be baptized.

    Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

  14. Joshua08 says:

    Benedict the XIV ruled that if the father willed that the child be baptised and the mother was unwilling, the child should be baptised. And if the mother willed that the child be baptised and the father object, he should be baptised. And if the father was dead and the paternal grandfather wanted the child baptised, he should be baptised….the crux being that the will of one with guardianship sufficed, regardless of what another said.

  15. Joseph-Mary says:

    I also know of such a case that is with a devout Catholic friend of mine. He is the dad and has been raising the son 90% of the time although it was to be shared custody, the mom did not want it until a few months ago. She will not allow the son to be baptised either but the boy must be 14 and then can choose. He is now 13 and so she now has him half the time because that birthday is approaching and now she wants the influence. But the son is in Catholic instruction and everything and hopefully will be baptised on his 14th birthday.

    Interesting how those who choose not to practice any faith also want others to not practice it either; it is more than indifference as it is a hatred for the faith.

  16. Kathleen10 says:

    Yes, another victim to our modern culture where children suffer and lose. Mothers and fathers are so intent on their interpersonal battle with each other, the child’s needs vaporize.
    The judge ruling favors Protestantism, baptism after infancy. Grounds for discrimination?
    I had no idea the age of reason was 7. Isn’t the age of reason 13 in the US? I had little reasoning power at 23.
    I am so tired of people saying dumb things like let the child decide. If you’re an atheist, what do you think they’ll decide. Atheism is a belief system, a belief in nothing. Or people. Just not “That Person”.
    Tragically, by the time this child is of age, the topic of religion will probably be fairly repugnant to her, due to the relentless bickering and lawsuits.

  17. KAS says:

    Catholic teaching, the age of reason is 7, which is why a child entering the Catholic church past the age of 7 can go through RCIA with the adults (or in an adapted RCIA for children) and receive all three Sacraments of Initiation together at Easter. My son knew the faith better at age 9 than most adults, was clear on belief and why he believed, and was quite able to enter the Catholic church as he did, with all three Sacraments.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Non obligans in conscientia.

    And Baptism can be done in a few seconds, you know.

    Of course, I’m all for swearing proper oaths to the competent Church authorities – who not necessarily need to take care that the public authorities get to know of all that has happened.

    Remains the question: Do we need a priest (deacon) outside danger of death, or is it also a sufficient reason for a lay baptism not to inflict to additional persons the danger of imprisonment?

  19. Lili of the fields says:

    May I chime in?
    It seems very illogical to me that the father of the girl in question, being non religious, rejects the possibility of baptism but agrees for his daughter to attend a Christian school. Surely, from a non-religious perspective, the baptism has less influence on the girl than the constant contact with the Christian faith and Christian in general.

    If a child ask for baptism, even a non-religious person can see it has value in the child’s eyes and should reconsider seriously his former position; and , may I had, at what age is a person old enough to ask to be baptised?

    This father is exercising power over his ex-wife and daugther (maybe for revenge?) and doesn’t have the well being of his daughter in mind. The judge, by siding with the dad, is erring in judgement. Parents and law trying to prevent people from converting to Christianity; it reminds me of antique Rome…. how strange.

  20. Ana says:

    As part of my comment was quoted verbatim, I’m going to respond to the comment in question. 1) Yes, I’m not reading between the lines of the article, because it is dangerous to start assuming issues when we don’t know all the facts. 2) The second crux of my argument was ignored and the was “we discussed this prior to having children as baptising children is part of my faith”. If this is a Catholic family, in fact, then this would have been discussed prior to marriage and agreed upon so it would be a valid argument to say to the judge my spouse is not upholding our agreement.

    While I fully accept baptism as necessary, if the child truly desires baptism, if something happens to her prior to baptism, I am confident she will be saved via “baptism by desire” without the necessary damage to her soul if she is baptised and does not receive the proper spiritual followup due to this ugly mess she is caught in the middle of.

    Yes, the judge overstepped more than a few boundaries, but, in my humble opinion, our primary concern should be about the damage to the family unit and the dangers of marrying outside of the faith.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    I know a nine year old girl and a twelve year old boy who requested not only Baptism, but to come into Christianity from non-Catholic families. As the parents were willing, the priests in both cases instructed them (two separate places) and they were baptized, etc. The Catholic Church has traditionally seen the age of seven as the age of reason, and I do not see why a child cannot decide on his or her own if the parent has not done so. However, the judge should have stayed out of it and let the parent and child work out the situation. What seems clear to me from what is being written is that there is an argument between the parents about the situation, which becomes a custody issue. Sadly, children find themselves caught in these horrible fights, and the judge made a bad decision probably based on prejudice and pressure from one of the parents. Non-religious parents want to influence their children just as much as religious ones. Perhaps there had been a comprise that the child could go to the Christian school. The entire custody procedure in many countries is abused by selfish, immature parents who do not have the best interest of their children in mind. The child becomes a pawn for an agenda, such as non-religion, just to get at the other parent, and so on. Icky business.

  22. marajoy says:

    I wonder why the parents didn’t baptize the child when she was an infant? And *now* the mother decides that she must be baptized? Seems to me that the mother may be using this as one more thing to try and get *her* way; as a result of the unfortunate power-struggle that divorce usually results in. Just an idea.

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