When is delay of Baptism warranted?

My sister recently had her child baptized in a private ceremony by a priest who is a family friend. (I understand that it’s no longer customary to have baptisms this way, but during the mass).

A bit of background: my sister is a non-practicing catholic who recently married a non-believer in a civil ceremony. I believe that she wanted the baptism performed more out of a sense of tradition than a true spriitual need. What I found appalling is that one of the Godparents is a practicing homosexual, who is also a non-practicing catholic.

I am very disappointed that the priest did not delay the baptism in order to thoroughly discuss my sister’s spiritual state and marital lack of form. To the best of my knowledge, the priest did not seek to ascertain the spiritual states of the parents and godparents during the brief 10 minute meeting he had with them a few weeks prior to the baptism…during the baptism, the priest allowed the non-believing spouse to participate in the baptism by allowing him on the altar, and by asking him the basic question about whether the child would be raised catholic.

Am I wrong here? I firmly believe that the child has every right to be baptized (and Im happy she was), but I also feel that the priest did not follow procedures adequately. I feel that the baptism should have been delayed so that my sister could be made to examine her faith and come to some understanding that her marriage is invalid. Maybe the priest didnt want to cause anyone to be uncomfortable, but then again I feel it was his duty to point out to my sister that she should return to the Church.

According to Canon Law

Can. 868 §1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:

1/ the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;

2/ there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason.

Yes as described above, you have described a failure right there.

A child of a Catholic couple should normally be baptized as soon as possible.

But if the child is not going to be raised in the Church, if it is just a ceremony or social occasion, it should not be done.

Situations like this are always a difficult decision for a pastor to make. As long as he has a “founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic, he has an obligation to do the baptism. Without that founded hope (“altogether lacking”), he likewise has an obligation to delay the baptism.

How does one decide if a “founded hope” is there? That’s the big question.

Personally, I look at it that the very fact that the parents are presenting the child for baptism is itself a hope that the child will be raised in the faith, and I do not delay the baptism unless I am certain that this will not happen. Remember the word is “hope” not certainty nor any other objective criteria.

Such moments are also “teaching moments” and perhaps the pastor did use that opportunity to explain the parents’ obligations. We can only hope that this happened.

On the other hand, the choice of Godparents is a different matter. There is a much higher standard here, and one who is not a practicing Catholic, and will not be a good example to the child should never be admitted as a Godparent (or allowed to pretend to be one).

Did the mother of the child have volunteered to the priest that one of the godparents was a homosexual?

Did the priest know this?

Did he even inquire?

Should he have been expected to make such an inquiry?

Every time I have been asked to be a sponsor, I have had to obtain a letter from my pastor attesting to my (active) membership in the parish.

To the best of my knowledge, no letter of parish involvment was solicited by the priest of the godparents. My sister related to me, that during her brief meeting with the priest, the priest simply talked about the meaning of Baptism…Because my sister hasnt stepped foot inside a church for years, I thought this would have been a golden opportunity for the priest to encourage her to look into her faith again. He did not.

how would they know if your active or not? would they check to see if you’ve made enough offerings to be considered active?

if OP, or I, was the priest we would have proceeded very much along the lines OP suggests, and investigated more on that basis. However neither one of us was the priest, so in charity we are obliged to assume he did make his best judgment. Only to state that priests who are so cavalier about the sacraments, and who fail to use these catechetical moments on the grounds of “being pastoral” do as much or more harm than harsh judgemental priests, in the long run. Now here is a child, bound to live by Church law, discipline and teaching, who will likely be brought up with no idea what has been promised and obligated in his name.

in this diocese we are not allowed to use “envelopes” or any other such check on Mass attendance, or registration–those who reside in our boundaries must be considered parishioners. Nor are we allowed to ask for proof that sponsors are married in the church, or even baptized, we must take their word for it, after carefully explaining the requirements for godparents. I must say, at least here, most people are very concientious and honest about this. Nor is the parents’ marital status necessarily a barrier, nor may they be required to marry before baptism.

However, as canon law states, the pastor must have assurance the child will be raised Catholic. How he does this when the parents don’t come to Mass, the sponsors are not local, the other children in the family are not brought to CCD, I have no idea, but that is his problem, not mine. I just teach the parent-sponsor classes, and repeat over and over the nature of the profession of faith and obligation they are assuming for this child and hope the message sinks in. I have also started a file so we can send an invitation to parish RE programs when the time comes.

I just want to point out that this is about the baby’s soul, not the parents. This baby has been given a chance to be part of the Catholic community. Perhaps this child will find Christ on his/her own if not raised Catholic.

Just knowing that he/she has been baptized may be enough to spark some curiousity about the faith.

Jesus would never turn a baby away. This priest was acting with hope that the baby would find Christ when he/she is ready.

I agree 100%. If I were a baby my wish would be that my Baptism be considered on what I might ultimately contribute to the church and to heaven and earth, and not based on my parents’ or godparents’ lifestyle choices.

That is why I put the word “active” in quotations marks. In fact, offerings frequently, but not always, correlate to the amount of activity within a parish. Also, if a Catholic regularly attends Mass and places his envelope in the plate, but never gets involved in any parish activities, is he an “active” parishioner?

In point of fact, the letter from the pastor is really only a statement that the person is a registered parishoner who attends Mass regularly. The description of of me as “active” is probably more reflective of the fact that in each case, I knew the priest personally, because of my involvement.

These usually are done in a form-letter. Many pastors use pre-printed forms which state that the person is both a practicing Catholic and qualified to serve as a sponsor. That means having been confirmed, and committed to the faith, and living a lifestyle consistent with the teachings of the Church, and everything else. If the pastor signs it as a matter of routine and it’s not true, that’s between him and God. But the pastor who does not know a potential sponsor still has the obligation to obtain some kind of certification from the home pastor that the person is qualified.

A person need not be involved in any extra-liturgical “parish activities” to be a practicing Catholic and qualified sponsor. So even though we might sometimes say “active Catholic” the real standard is “practicing Catholic.”

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