ASK FATHER: Can a teen with hostile parents be baptized?

From a reader…


Is it morally wrong to delay converting Catholicism? The potential convert believes the Catholic Church is the one true Church. However, she is a teenager, has very hostile parents, and is willing to wait a few years to make sure she is right about her convictions.

Age is an interesting thing in Canon Law. People who have achieved the age of 7 have, presumably, achieved the use of reason. As such, they can make their own decisions and are no longer treated as infants in the law. Their parents cannot provide the consent needed for baptism, they are required to freely request baptism of their own volition. Yet, such persons are still minors until they turn 18, and are under the care of their parents (can. 97). At the age of 14, if they are unbaptized, they can choose which Ritual Church to be baptized in. At the same age, if they are female, they can validly marry. If they are male, they have to wait until they are 16 to marry validly.

A minor who wishes to be baptized, or wishes to profess the Catholic faith can validly do so whether or not his or her parents consent.

Pastoral prudence comes into play here.

Especially if the parents are strongly opposed, there may be some good reasons for delaying the baptism or profession of faith. Our interlocutor says the individual is a “teenager” which covers a broad range from a bouncy, immature 13-year-old, to a seasoned, well-adjusted and mature 19-year-old.

The pastoral response to each one would be individualized.

A young woman, aged 16, who has shown maturity and discretion, and is clearly sincere in her desire to become Catholic might be quietly baptized, although if she is still living at home, with hostile parents, her ability to practice the faith might be compromised. A girl, aged 13, who wants to be Catholic because she just watched the Bells of St. Mary and is enraptured by the world of Catholicism therein presented, might be encouraged to continue to read, pray, make friends with Catholics and visit the church on a regular basis for a few years before being baptized.

Another factor to consider is whether this young woman who wishes to convert is already baptized or not. If she is not baptized, the urgency of welcoming her to the water of life will be a motivation. If she is already baptized, but not in full communion with the Church, might be more safely delayed.

The intensity of her parents’ hostility will also be a factor.

All in all, this is a decision that should be made at the local level, by a good and trusted pastor familiar with the specifics of the situation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Father, due to how you keep pounding away that unplanned death would be horrifying, [No. Unprovided death. No recourse to the last sacraments and dying in the state of mortal sin.] could a friend or close confidant do an emergency baptism in secret, in case she dies before her parents relent … Or never do?

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    A review exercise for canon law students might require noting what is significant about ages: 7, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 35, 75, 80…and a few others. More than one answer might be correct. And, re your baptism case, recall Canon 1478.3.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. ” People who have achieved the age of 7 have, presumably, achieved the use of reason.”

    So true, just look at the life of Little Nellie of Holy God. She was only 4 1/2 when she died.

  4. Thanks for the correction father. Still your posts send me shivers down my spine, hence the question to save this teen’s soul.

  5. aviva meriam says:

    AS a personal observation… someone may be of the age of reason but may not be personally capable of self support. While I support this Teenager, I would caution him/her to be prepared for negative consequences. There are communities whose members would disown this teen if the baptism became known.

    I would also strongly encourage this teenager to become as connected to the parish and catholic activities as possible: should the teen be ostracized from his/her original family emotional support will be crucial to maintaining a catholic identity.

  6. Bender says:

    If the act of asking for, and then receiving, baptism constitutes an act of disobedience that rises to the level of dishonoring one’s parents, which of course is a violation of the Commandment and thus a sin in and of itself, that would seem to preclude baptism at this time. You cannot do wrong even in order to do good. The question here is whether seeking baptism now – even though baptism itself is of the highest good – would be a wrong by a child against a parent. If it is, then no. If it is not, then yes.

  7. rtrainque says:

    Re: whether such a decision by a child would constitute a sin –In the sermon linked below Fr. gives a brief outline of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s explanation of the 4th commandment. Basically, obedience under penalty of mortal sin is only due to serious and just commands. On the flip side, he goes on to say that parents sin mortally who get in the way of children freely pursuing a vocation (in particular to the priesthood or religious life). I’m sure that none here would argue that a command not to be baptized in/convert to the one true Church is a just command.

  8. Pingback: What 'Alienates' People from the Church? - Big Pulpit

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