Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) baptizing babies
I recently read an interesting interview from 2009 with Pope Francis (when he was Cardinal Bergoglio) in ’30 Giorni.’
The interview touches on the pastoral situation of granting baptism to infants whose parents are not canonically regular with the Catholic Church.
I found the interview very encouraging since the Holy Father takes an Augustinian and Thomistic approach to the question. Let’s look at a quote and then I’ll divine into the citations.
Pope Francis says:
The child has no responsibility for the marital state of its parents. And then, the baptism of children often becomes a new beginning for parents. Usually there is a little catechesis before baptism, about an hour, then a mystagogic catechesis during liturgy. Then, the priests and laity go to visit these families to continue with their post-baptismal pastoral. And it often happens that parents, who were not married in Church, maybe ask to come before the altar to celebrate the sacrament of marriage.
First of all, Pope Francis’ argument is very Thomistic. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that, “Nor is it a hindrance to [any infants’] salvation if their parents be unbelievers.” (Summa theologiae III, q. 68 a. 9 ad 2.) However, Thomas is very explicit that we should never baptize non-Christian children against the wishes of their non-Christian parents. Only if they ask for it. (See the subsequent article 10 in the same question of the Summa).
The Pope’s answer is also very Augustinian. Saint Augustine taught:
“Little children are offered that they may receive grace in their souls, not so much from the hands of those that carry them (yet from these too, if they be good and faithful) as from the whole company of the saints and the faithful. For they are rightly considered to be offered by those who are pleased at their being offered, and by whose charity they are united in communion with the Holy Spirit.” (Augustine, Epistle 98).
Here Augustine teaches that it is the “whole company of saints and faithful” that really do the offering of the infant, not the parent that carries the child to the church. Moreover, it is not as if we are talking about Jews, Arians, Mormons, or Mohammedans. We’re talking about Catholic people, even though they may not be well catechized or living rightly.
I like what Pope Francis is saying here.
I have become discouraged how in the United States, the sacraments are “held hostage” by local parish hierarchies. In some parishes, you have to go jump through hoops and attend classes and get sponsors in special classes and so on. It leads to delayed infant baptism…something that Blessed John Paul II openly condemned.
Holding the sacraments hostage is a new phenomenon. In the old days, a woman would give birth (not in a hospital) and a female friend of the tired mother and the father would walk the infant to the parish church where the infant would be baptized the very same day or the day after. This was the case with Pope Benedict XVI’s baptism shortly after he was born. It is the case of many of the saints. When you read their lives, you often read that the saints were baptized on the day of their birth or shortly thereafter.
There was no adult catechesis director acting as a sacramental “bouncer” at the parish. There were no pre-scheduled dates for baptism since the clergy were too busy. Infant baptism was performed when it was needed – that is, whenever there was a brand-new infant.
Relating to all this, Pope Francis also shared a touching personal story in the interview:
BERGOGLIO: Just a few days ago I baptized seven children of a woman on her own, a poor widow, who works as a maid and she had had them from two different men. I met her last year at the Feast of San Cayetano. She said: Father, I’m in mortal sin, I have seven children and I’ve never had them baptized. It had happened because she had no money to bring the godparents from a distance, or to pay for the party, because she always had to work … I suggested we meet, to talk about it. We spoke on the phone, she came to see me, told me that she could never find all the godparents and get them together … In the end I said: let’s do everything with only two godparents, representing the others. They all came here and after a little catechesis I baptized them in the chapel of the archbishopric. After the ceremony we had a little refreshment. A coca cola and sandwiches. She told me: Father, I can’t believe it, you make me feel important…I replied, but lady, where do I come in, it’s Jesus who makes you important.
Is that not beautiful! What a wonderful witness.
Question for you: Do you agree with what Pope Francis says here? Should we allow parents to bring children to baptism, even if the parents are not fully formed in the faith or live in a canonically irregular situation? Does bringing an infant to baptism imply formal faith on the part of the parent? I look forward to your thoughts. And of course, feel free to disagree with me. Please leave a comment below.