Guest Post: A Canon Lawyer Comments on Baptismal Requirements


From James Peterson, OFM Cap., brother, friend and canon lawyer extraordinaire:

My question:

There are reports that Pope Francis baptized the child of a civilly married Catholic couple a few days ago.  It is presumed, then, that the couple was not married according to canonical form before a minister of the Church.
In the local parish setting, what, if any, are the canonical requirements for baptizing children?
And Br. Jim’s response:
Canon 868 states, Ҥ1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:
1º the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;
2º 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.
§2. An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents.” 
The operative standard is therefore, “a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion.” The marital status of the parents might be relevant as to whether there is a founded hope, but it is not a disqualifying factor in any event.  For example, only one parent need present the child for baptism.  A founded hope is something that the parent can point to that gives the priest some assurance that the child will be raised Catholic.  It is incumbent upon the priest to inquire who will bring the infant up in the Catholic religion. This may not even be the parent himself or herself. It may be a grandparent, a brother or sister, and aunt or an uncle, or even a family friend. The priest has the opportunity to explain the Church teaching that the parent or the one who takes his it her place has the primary responsibility to educate the child in the Catholic faith, but that responsibility does not impact the question of who can be baptized. The duty of the priest does not end if he finds there is no founded hope.  He is to tell the parent or parents the reason(s) he is delaying the baptism and can only postpone it. He cannot deny the baptism. He therefore must continue to be in contact with the parent(s) to educate and prepare them regarding the child’s baptism. The baptism is presumed to take place at some future date, even if there is no founded hope at first.
Editor’s Note: this post was updated after the author noted that an old copy of this post was published.

One thought on “Guest Post: A Canon Lawyer Comments on Baptismal Requirements”

  1. Why isn’t the presentation of the infant for baptism a prima facie case of “a founded hope”? Shouldn’t the priest bear the burden to show that there is not “a founded hope” and that a delay is in order?

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