“Ask a Priest: Why Can’t Babies of Non-practicing Parents Be Baptized?”

Q: My big issue is the right to baptize a baby that is born into a situation where he/she might or might not be brought up in the faith. I am told that there has to be some kind of assurance that the child will be brought up in the faith before the baptism can happen. Yet I was taught that we are all born with original sin, and that the purpose of baptism is to erase that sin. It seems that a child has a right to be baptized even if the parents are not living their Catholic faith. I have three great-grandchildren who are not allowed to be baptized even though their non-practicing parents have no problem with it. To me this is wrong and, yet, the Church takes this stand. If the children are never baptized, I do not think that Jesus is going to hold them responsible. I pray always that the Holy Spirt will touch them at some time and that they will find Our Lord and follow him. Maybe that is all I can do, but it just seems wrong to me to deny them this sacrament. Thanks for hearing me out. – R.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is understandable and laudable that you are concerned about the great-grandchildren.

The Church’s rules, though, shouldn’t be seen as a punishment against the little ones. Far from it.

What the Church has in mind is this: It doesn’t want the non-practicing parents to think of baptism as simply a custom with no responsibilities attached. To baptize a child but not educate him in the faith is a grave disservice. It could leave a child with a distorted vision of baptism and of the value of the Catholic faith, as if they were cultural oddities with no real impact on his moral life. (Baptism is, however, allowed if a baby is in danger of death.)

The Church hopes that its norms on baptism could be a wake-up call to parents — a signal that they need to get serious about their faith and about passing it on to their children. For the parents will have to answer before God someday for how well (or poorly) they fulfilled their duty to teach their children the faith.

If the Church allowed baptism with no further requirements on parents, the meaning of the sacrament could quickly be lost.

You are right about Jesus’ mercy: He will certainly take it into consideration if children go through life without catechesis and without their experiencing a compelling reason for baptism. Our Lord won’t hold such children to the same standard that he holds the baptized and catechized members of the Church.

It sounds as though you already are doing the right thing by praying for these parents and children. Your prayers and example could certainly influence the little ones faster than you expect. And who knows? — maybe they will be asking for baptism within a few years.

This is a moment to draw deeper from the well of your own faith. The Church as guardian of the sacraments is not trying to deny anything to anyone, but rather to beckon Catholic parents to live up to their mission of educating their children in the faith.

Perhaps this is a moment to intensify your devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her intercession can move hearts. I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers for you and your loved ones.


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