From a reader…
I know of a local Ukrainian Catholic priest who baptizes any Catholic baby (whether Roman or Eastern Rite) who is brought to him by their parents (whether or not the parents knew of this priest or if a relative or friend referred them to this priest). In most of these cases, the parents who want the Baptism of their child/children from this Ukrainian Catholic priest do not practice their Catholic faith, and/or the parents are not married, and/or one of the parents is not in the picture, etc. And in most cases, the Roman Catholic priest(s) they’ve went to have refused the baptism of their child/children for all of the above listed reasons. The UC priest’s reasoning for doing all of these baptisms is that he believes that the child should not have to suffer (I’m guessing the effects of original sin by living their lives unbaptized) and that it’s not the baby’s fault that their parents are in some of the above listed reasons.
Is there anything wrong what this Ukrainian Catholic priest is doing?
Is there a violation of Canon Law? Are the Roman Catholic priests right or wrong for refusing baptism in these cases? Who is right and who is wrong here?
Liberality, or mercy, is a virtue. Prudence remains the mother of all virtues. Prudence instills temperance and strength into liberality, lest it devolve into mushy sentimentality or pompous fanaticism. Prudence helps us to keep the apple cart between the lines along the narrow path.
Holy Church – with Our Lord – wishes that all men be baptized. How different would the world look if everyone shared the Catholic faith? Problems would not be obliterated, but just imagine how wonderful a truly Catholic world would be. That’s something that the Devil works to thwart… and pretty successfully, too.
From the outset the Church rejected frivolous baptism. Baptism requires something of the person being baptized. In the case of children to be baptized, it requires something of their parents, and sponsors. Otherwise, to save everyone from the effects of original sin, we would have long ago sent priests (probably Jesuits) up in planes with water canons, to fly around the world baptizing everyone.
The Church asks in can. 868 that all those who administer the sacrament of baptism to children do so only when there is “founded hope” that the child will be raised in the faith. The parents, or those who stand in their place, must have a commitment to raise their child as a Catholic before we can licitly baptize that child. A priest who baptizes children without exercising that prudential judgment in discerning whether or not the parents truly are committed to raising their child Catholic errs. The baptism is still valid, mind you.
Prudential judgment is a delicate thing. One priest might have obtained the “founded hope” in the simple request of the parents to have their child baptized. Another priest might only have founded hope if the parents are registered members of the parish who attend and contribute every week.
It seems to me that both such priests are extreme cases and not truly being prudent, but only God knows their hearts. It would have include a case-by-case investigation to get to the bottom of the matter.
The question of baptizing children whose parents do not belong to one’s particular ritual Church is a bit of further complication. The newly baptized child’s rite is not determined by the minister of his baptism, but by the ritual Church of his parents. So if both parents are Latin Catholics, their child (under the age of 14) will be Latin Catholic, no matter who performs the baptism. Still, one should not baptize the children of parents who do not belong to one’s Church unless there is a serious need (such as no priests of the parents’ Church available).