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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Baptising infants readily

Sandro Magister has written about the response of the Church in Argentina, and Cardinal Bergoglio in particular, to the secularisation of the country and the rising number of unbaptised infants. See: Go Forth and Baptize. The Wager of the Argentine Church

The Cardinal is keen to draw into the life of the Church those who are not practising their faith, especially those for whom poverty and a broken family life are factors increasing their marginalisation from the Church. In an interview with 30 Days, he gives an example which is quite moving:
"The child has no responsibility for the condition of his parents' marriage. The baptism of children can, on the contrary, become a new beginning for the parents. A while ago, I baptized the seven children of one woman, a poor widow who works as a maid and had her children by two different men. I met her on the feast of Saint Cajetan. She said to me, 'Father, I am in mortal sin, I have seven children and have never had them baptized, I don't have the money for the godparents and for the party... I saw her again and after a little catechesis I baptized them in the chapel of the archepiscopal residence. The woman said to me, 'Father, I can't believe it, you make me feel important'. I said to her, 'But madam, what do I have to do with it? It's Jesus who makes you important."
The phrase "after a little catechesis" was encouraging to me, since that is essentially what I do. With sincere respect for those who require parents to come to three or four instruction sessions, I think that for parents of a young child, this is rather a burden. We are faced with the problem of parents presenting a child for baptism without having taken much part in the life of the Church before. I agree with the pastoral approach that seeks to encourage such families by baptising their children readily, and then trying to encourage people to get married, or to have their civil marriage convalidated, to return to Mass and confession, and to become a part of the general life of the parish.

In terms of the interpretation of Canon Law, the 1980 Instruction on Infant Baptism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is quite lenient on the requirements for a "well-founded hope" that the child will be brought up in the Christian faith, accepting, for example, that the Godparents or the support of the community of the faithful would be sufficient.

Sandro Magister in the same article quotes the frank answer of Pope Benedict at a meeting with priests at Bressanone in August 2008, in which he admitted that he had been more strict as a young priest but had changed his mind over time.
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