Canon 868 § 1, n. 2, recognizing the gravity of the obligations that come with baptism and not wishing to see those obligations too-lightly assumed, states: “For an infant to be baptized licitly … there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion …”.
As is true of any pastoral matter involving infants, the situation of the parents is of special concern to ministers and Canon 868 has been used by pastors as the occasion to assist parents toward improving their ecclesial situation by, say, helping them to marry in the Church or arranging for others to play a special role in the child’s growth in faith. Obviously, such measures, being themselves important undertakings, require time to arrange and, consequently, can cause a delay in granting the request for infant baptism.
To outside observers, however, this delay may appear as a denial and such denial in turn seen as injustice, leading some to criticize not the spiritually irregular parental situation underlying the delay, nor even the canon that ties infant baptism to parental readiness to assume responsibilities for a baptized child, but instead the priests (who might be trying as best they can to help people manage their religious affairs in a world hostile to the idea that faith actually makes demands on people) by labeling them “pastorally cruel” or even, sadly, “animals”.
Among some 400,000 priests in ministry today, are there at least a few who, in violation of canon law and pastoral directives, actually deny a child baptism solely because the mother is not married in the Church? I suppose so—though I have never met one. Such priests should be corrected, of course, but not in terms so broad as to fuel contempt for priestly ministry and never, ever, in terms derogatory of a priest’s humanity. Priests, like everyone else on this earth, need instruction not insults.
[This essay was originally posted on the “In the Light of the Law” blog and is reprinted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.]