Can you be converted to Catholicism without your consent?

A friend recently told me that two non-Catholic men of her acquaintance, when both were incapacitated due to terminal illness, were “made Catholic” (her words) by the bishop who visited them in the hospital, at the request of their respective wives. One recovered unexpectantly and was shocked at this revelation that he had been “made Catholic” without his consent. Is this possible? My friend intimated that she would make sure her husband was converted in this manner when the time comes, as it is the only way he would ever become Catholic. I can’t imagine that this could be true – is it?

No, you cannot be converted to Catholicism without your consent. In the situations you related, I can only assume that the bishop was told that the men had indicated a desire to be received into the Church before they were incapacitated. If that was not true, as perhaps was the case with the man who was shocked to find out he was “now Catholic,” then the fault lies with those who misrepresented the facts and not with the bishop.

In any event, it seems to me that it could be grave matter for your friend to misrepresent her husband’s convictions while he was incapacitated in order to force him into the Church against his will. This is because, for an adult, faith is necessary to validly receive the sacrament of baptism and to be received into the Church. In the case of the baptism of someone of the age of reason, if there is no faith then the baptism would be invalid. Any subsequent reception of the sacraments either without baptism or by an unbeliever could be invalid (depending on the sacrament) and would be objectively sacrilegious.

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