May a priest refuse to baptize a sick baby?

I find it hard to believe that the chaplain of our local government hospital refused to baptize a sick baby. At that time that he was called to administer baptism, only the baby’s aunt was around. The mother of the baby had hypertension and was still recuperating at home while the father was out looking for money to buy medication. The doctors told the family to get the priest as the less than a week-old infant was in critical condition, but when the priest arrived and found out that the parents were not around, he refused to administer emergency baptism and confirmation. A few hours later, when the baby was about to die, the doctor was the one who administered emergency baptism.
I am a doctor myself and have done at least one emergency baptism and taught other medical students to do the same, thus I find the actions of the priest hard to understand.
Does the priest have sufficient grounds to refuse administering emergency baptism to a dying infant whose parents are not around? If he was wrong in refusing to do so in this case, are there any sanctions which may be imposed on this priest?

Hi Doctor,

The priest in question violated canon law, and possibly the moral law, in refusing to baptize the baby. He needs to be informed of what the Church teaches here. Actually, it’s a matter of common sense—which isn’t all that common these days.

Canon law requires in cases of urgent necessity and specifically in cases of children under the age of seven, that they be baptized without delay (Canon 867.2). When there is danger of the baby dying, there is no requirement that the parents be present, be practicing Catholics or be married in the Church.

Thank God for that doctor and other doctors like yourself.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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