Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Watering Down Baptism?

 While listening to Personally Speaking, a  Catholic interview program hosted by Monseigneur Jim Lisante, the prelate host shared sua sponte that he recently was approached by two lesbians who sought to have their child baptized.  Despite being turned away at two other parishes, the priest proclaimed to the couple:  “There isn’t anything in the bible about being gay so it must be OK” thus he consented to perform the sacrament.

The cleric’s superficial scriptural analysis speciously seems to ignore Jesus’ perspective on marriage in MT 19 as a married man and woman become one flesh. That passage clearly does not include alternative arrangements.   But the conundrum is on the propriety of baptizing a child to parents who manifestly are living contrary to the teachings of the church. 

While I appreciate the pastoral inclinations, the scenario calls into question the rationale for the sacrament of initiation and what is involved in infant baptism. Ideally, baptism claims the person as a child of God with an indelible mark on the soul. But an infant is unable to make baptismal promises, so those proclamations of faith are made by parents and godparents. Thus, pastoral discernment is required of the parents and godparents

Canon 1255 anticipates that the faith promise given infant baptism be supplemented by the parents, godparents and community.  In Acts 2:38 St. Peter exhorts us to “Repent and be baptized” which requires a metanoia (i.e. turning away from sin) in those professing the faith.

Practically speaking, the faith must be nurtured by the practice in the home church as well as with the People of God. The difficulty is when parents are living lives that are manifestly and publicly contrary to the tenants of the faith.

Those inclined to seek the mercy of God would surely say that an innocent child should not be punished for the sins of the parents.  But baptism involve promises made in rearing the child in the faith.   In this scenario, we can assume that they are living as a same sex couple and have pride in their lifestyle.  If one of the couple is biologically the mother, it raises issues about artificial insemination or procreation outside of marriage. This would mean that a child would be expected to be raised in the faith by a couple co-habitating outside of sacramental marriage and with orientations that the church teaches are disordered? 

 Despite Monseigneur Lisante’s claims, the Church in Canon 2357 considers homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered.   It is unclear if the couple was civilly married but the Church does not recognize such unions as being covenantial or sacramental. Perhaps the couple was not church going and those pastors deemed the sacrament of baptism being used as a ritualistic rite of passage rather than a conferral of grace.

Near the beginning of Pope Francis’ papacy, the Holy Father chided young priests to not become “little monsters” doggedly adhering to doctrine but instead to focus on compassion, evangelization and inclusion.  In that spirit, pastors may be reluctant to turn away anyone from the Church, even if adherence to baptismal promises made for them seem tenuous so as to see if takes hold. This calls to mind the conversion story of Fr. Donald Calloway who was baptized at age ten at the behest of Episcopalian kin even though his parents were not practicing their faith.  The only thing that he remembered from his baptismal sacrament of initiation was the donuts they eat afterwards.  Hearing his hair raising testimony, the graces of baptism did not take from merely that liturgical ritual.  Is it merciful to give the impression that one is saved by baptism but has no context to living properly as a Catholic Christian?

Pope Francis’ encyclical, Amoris Laetitia, attempted to reconcile the practice of the Catholic faith with the Modern Family.  Pope Francis declared that marriage was between a man and a woman for life (para. 62), same sex unions can not be equated with marriage (para. 52) and that education is the of a child is the “primary right” of parents (para. 84).  It is hard to believe that the child would be brought up in the ways of the church in the aforementioned scenario, which argues against  a profligate administration of baptism.

Pro arguendo, one could attempt to apply the logic of Chapter Eight of Amoris Laetitia in this instance.  After all, Pope Francis opined that pastors ought not throw moral stones and be done with irregular situations.  In footnote 351, the Holy Father sought to reconcile those in irregular marriages (Catholics civilly remarried after a divorce without obtaining an annulment) with the Church through a circuitous procedure in lieu of canon law.  

This alternative approach required extensive pastoral counseling for the couple so they could understand the wisdom of the Church and conforming their lives to the teaching.  In conforming irregular marriage to the norms of the church, the couple would need  to be catechized and gain an informed conscience. If children were a consideration and couples could not easily separate, so they would be enjoined from marital relations in order to receive the sacraments. And the couple would be encouraged to join another parish so as to avoid the appearance of scandal.  Of course, that is asking a lot. But the Gospel exhorts us: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” 

So how would this Amoris Laetitia logic be applied to parents of a child seeking baptism who are flagrantly living their lives contrary to Church teachings?  That’s the rub.  Those making the baptismal promises are more than falling short of virtue.  They are publicly living their lives contrary to the teaching of the Faith.  Amoris Laetitia anticipates some metanoia as well as a resolve to sin no more.  Is it reasonable to expect the child to be raised under the Church’s precepts, particularly with the Home Church defies the theology of the body and a sacredness of the covenant of marriage?  

In America, we fret about the lack of Sunday Mass by many baptized Catholics  and of the glaring lack of understanding of fundamental precepts of faith (e.g. the Real Presence in the Eucharist). So many poorly catechized Catholics are poached by Evangelical denominations since they hunger for the divine, but are sacramentalized but not catechized.  So much for the fruits from the Church of Nice. For seekers of Divine Truth, it is disheartening if they discover that were holy fools for playing by the rules because mercy to the unrepentant overrides all.

While it sounds merciful to baptize a child from a proud lesbian couple, sadly it seems that the child would be left as a spiritual orphan through a perfunctory ceremony which waters down the sacrament.

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