Interesting "legal" discussion

I was at a mens prayer lunch today where a priest in attendance said he’d been approached by the grandparents of a child wishing for the child to be baptized. The mother had left the Catholic Church. The father was agnostic. The priest said he wouldn’t consider such a request unless the parents consented to it.

A lawyer there said no clergy should ever baptize anyone under age 18 without parental consent. To do so, in the strictest legal terms, would be battery and the parents would have a legit legal case. I asked what about a teacher who places a hand on a child who is breaking a rule or even a pat on the back for a job well done. Because of an assumption of in loco parentis a teacher has far more latitude in such matters. A clergy person is not given that assumption.

I found it interesting and thought I would share it.

The lawyer is absolutely correct. If a priest were to baptize a child without the parents consent, he could get in serious trouble, the church could be sued (and the parents would win), and he would bring scandal upon the church.

I had my mothers consent (she had sole legal custody of me) and they would not baptize me, because i was considered to be too young I was 9 when I first asked). I was finally baptized at the age of 13.

it is also a violation of canon law to baptize a minor without parental consent (except in case of imminant death emergency), and an issue we have watch very attentively. I have an RCIA candidate coming up next year in precisely this problem between custodial and non-custodial parents. In addition there must be a well-founded hope that the child will be raised Catholic, and the priest in OP’s example had no such assurance and would be remiss if he did baptize.

I think you’re probably right that routine actions of school employees toward children automatically enjoy the favor of the law, in contrast to non-school adults. However, I don’t think a priest (or coach, or scout leader, etc) is at any risk simply for patting someone on the back. This isn’t an area I’ve looked into before, but my guess is that in loco parentis or something similar is implied when a child is left in the care of the adult. When the priest touches the child to do something clearly beyond what was authorized, then he can be accused of battery. For that matter, I think a teacher who touched a child as part of a baptism could likewise be accused of battery.

In case of emergency (and I see this as could be one) couldn’t one of the grandparents validly baptize the baby themselves? (I saw this on All in the Family once.)

I’ve seen this addressed in the AAA forum. An emergency would be if the child were seriously ill and in danger of death.

I remember that episode!!
Archie trying to baptize “little Joey”!
What a hoot!! :smiley:

Absolutely, but what you saw on All in the Family (and in the case described in the first post) would not constitute an emergency.

In All in the Family, Mike and Gloria refused to have their child Joey baptized. Archie takes the baby to Reverend Chong, who also refuses because the parents did not consent. Intend on having him baptized anyways, Archie sneaks over to the baptismal font on the way out after being refused by the Reverend and does it himself.

As far as I understand, this baptism would not be valid. Baptism requires faith. Because an infant cannot yet have faith, the faith of the parents, or in their absence the guardian of the infant, and in the absence of any such person, then the faith of the Church suffices. However, given that the parents are in a full parental relationship with the child, their (absent) faith would be taken into account.

The same would go for the original poster’s story.

An emergency would mean that there was grave danger of death present. Thus, if a grandparent (or anyone else) were with an infant in a car crash, or perhaps at the emergency room, or in some other situation where death were a serious concern, then such a baptism could be validly administered.


CIC Canon 861



Can. 861 §1. The ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, a presbyter, or a deacon, without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 530, n. 1.

§2. When an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly. Pastors of souls, especially the pastor of a parish, are to be concerned that the Christian faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.

The faith or lack thereof does not affect the validity of the sacrament. On the other hand, it can affect the efficacy of the sacrament. One can refuse to cooperate with the grace that is offered in the sacrament. In such a case as the fictitious baptism of Joey by Archie, one asks the same questions used to determine the validity of any sacrament. If Archie used the correct matter, the correct form, and had the correct intent, then the baptism was valid. Since there was no emergency, the baptism would have been illicit, but not invalid.

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