Baptism Pastoral Questions
...Believe it or not, the ruling around Godparents is actually more prescriptive than parents....
As we become more honest about the complexity of family life, parishes are presented with some difficult pastoral questions when families present for baptism. Here are some definitive answers to commonly asked questions. If you don't see what you need here, please reach out to us at Liturgy Brisbane!
The following questions relate to infant and child baptisms.
Do both parents need to be Catholic?
Not really, although at least one parent makes it easier to confirm the parents' assent within the rite that the child will be raised Catholic. There are cases in the Archdiocese of Brisbane where the parish priest has baptised an infant when neither parent has been Catholic. The stipulation is that the parish priest must be certain that the child will be brought up Catholic and that the parents know what they are assenting to when they present their child for baptism. If not, the baptism should be deferred until a later time.
Catholic or not, formation is required for parents and Godparents (known as 'sponsors' in Canon Law). Code of Canon Law 851.2 states: “the parents of a child who is to be baptised, and those who are to undertake the office of sponsers, are to be suitably instructed on the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations attaching to it. The parish priest is to see to it that either he or others duly prepare the parents, by means of pastoral advice and indeed by prayer together; a number of families might be brought together for this purpose and, where possible, each family visited.”
This website from the Australian Bishops Conference may help in discussing parents'/carers' obligations when seeking baptism for their child.
Some parish priests may be concerned that parents are presenting their children for Baptism merely to get into the local Catholic school. The parents' desire for Baptism on the behalf of their child should be genuine; but parishes are urged to make a decision with a disposition of abundance, with the knowledge that with baptism comes the Holy Spirit at work in the child's life. Where parishes have reported baptising children of non-catholic parents (with their permission), it is not uncommon to hear that the parents themselves choose to be baptised at a later date.
Canon Law recommends 'deferring' Baptism if the general requirements for baptism can not be met at a particular time. This is a significant pastoral qualification and it is worth taking note. We generally are not in the business of denying people entry into the Church, but we may need to delay the rite until such time as certain conditions may be met.
How many Godparents do we need, and do they all have to be Catholic?
The ruling around Godparents is more prescriptive than parents. A child actually only needs one Godparent and he or she must be Catholic, and have received the Sacraments of Initiation. The Code of Canon Law limits Godparents to a total of two (and only one male and one female). The second "Godparent" need not be Catholic as they are really classified as a witness. Both must be at least 16 years of age and living a good life. Neither can be the child's parents. The witness must at least be baptised. (You can read more in the Code of Canon Law 874.1).
Does baptism require both parents' permission?
It is a legal requirement that all the adults who have custody of the child provide permission. There is a case in Brisbane from a few years ago where one of the divorced parents did not give permission for the child to be baptised and as a result, sought to take the Archdiocese to court. If permission can not be obtained, the child should not be baptised. This is the radical conclusion of the Church teaching that it is the parents that are the primary faith educators of their children (CCC 2223-2226). Families finding themselves in this situation should not despair as the Sacrament of Baptism/Sacraments of Initiation may be sought when the child is older, perhaps when time has mended some family discord.
It is also recommended that the parish ensures that the parents providing permission for Baptism are in fact the birth parents. There are some cases where a step-parent can present/identify as 'mum' or 'dad' but do not legally have custody. If in doubt, it is better to ask the difficult questions to ensure the parish is fulfilling their legal obligation. (The Archdiocese of Brisbane: Baptism parish resources on the Flame of Faith website can be very helpful here - note that a password is required from Evangelisation Brisbane).
At what age does the Church require RCIA formation?
Canon Law considers children six years old and under as 'infants'. As such, parents or carers can request Baptism on the child's behalf. Children of seven years and older are considered to have reached the 'age of reason' and therefore may directly ask the Church for Baptism themselves (RCIA 306). Of course they still need their parents' or carers' legal permission to do so, but Canon Law allows them to directly petition the Church without an intermediary. Being of an age where reason is possible, the Church then asks the child to ensure they understand what they are asking for in seeking the Sacrament of Baptism. (RCIA 306). Generally this would be an abbreviated version of the RCIA program. (Evangelisation Brisbane and Liturgy Brisbane will be releasing new resources for this age group later in the year).
James Robinson is the Education Officer at Liturgy Brisbane