Don’t try this at home…

Baby Baptism.jpgQUESTION: My son and daughter-in-law belong to a church with different beliefs from mine, and thus my new grandchildren, a few months old, were not going to be baptized. My 1950s Catholic background would not let me sleep, so I snuck them off to the laundry and performed private rites. Do I get eternal reward or damnation? — NAME WITHHELD
If you hadn’t guessed, this query arrives via The Ethicist, aka Randy Cohen of The New York Times Magazine. We’ve had an interesting discussion of this issue and what it means–if anything–over at dotCommonweal.
Read on to see Cohen’s answer–and I’d be interested to see if you know of any similar cases. And if you think it “took.”


ANSWER: By convening in the laundry you may have taken too literally the idea of baptism as the washing away of sin. I only hope your “private rites” did not include the spin cycle.
You will receive neither eternal reward nor eternal damnation but might face eternal resentment if your son and daughter-in-law discover what you’ve been up to. They may well consider the religious guidance of their children to be a parental prerogative, reasonably enough. For anyone to intervene, even a well-intentioned family member, might confuse the kids (if they are old enough to recall your idiosyncratic ritual) and undermine their relationship with their parents. One ethical guideline: a description of conduct that begins with “I snuck” is apt to raise doubts.
To a secular person, an incantation whispered over an infant is harmless nonsense. But as a believer, you should be aware that Catholicism regards baptism as a sacrament to be performed by a priest except in an emergency, when anyone may step in. But “emergency” is generally held to mean the imminent death of the child, not a doctrinal dispute with the parents.

Comments read comments(4)
post a comment
Charles Cosimano

posted June 18, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Wasn’t this a bad All In the Family episode?

report abuse


posted June 19, 2008 at 3:45 am

Found your blog via Therese Borchard’s Beyond Blue for BeliefNet. I intend to visit often and thanks for being here.
I totally relate to this person’s feelings and angst about the grandchildren not being baptized as I am in the same boat with four of our six grandchildren. I, too, was raised in the 50’s Catholic school environment and our three received the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation after Vatican II which meant their religious education was rather soft compared to mine (many years in a Catholic girls boarding school, no less LOL).
One daughter married in a Presbyterian church and soon afterwards her husband converted to Catholicism and their marriage was as they say, “blessed” in the Catholic Church and their two children are baptized.
Our middle child has been searching and sometimes goes to Mass but has been more taken with a 30 something (not Catholic) church because the pastor’s preaching really “speaks” to her. Her husband is more on the Buddhist track and not really supportive of the Christian way. They did have a Baptism performed and when her second was born premature, I did do an emergency Baptism on her with my daughter’s approval while in the hospital.
Our third child is not open to even talking about religion at the moment and his two boys are 10 and 8 and have not been baptized and I dare not bring the subject up unless I want to suffer the repercussions of him breaking off communication with us, which happened in the past for a different reason.
From what I have been told by other grandparents and priests, it is best that we pray for our children and grandchildren, be a good example by our attendance at Mass, etc., and leave all of this in God’s hands which still leaves me feeling sheepish and cowardly for not being willing to risk everything for the Catholic faith. However, it is a relief to know there are many others out there who go through this.

report abuse

David G

posted June 19, 2008 at 8:08 am

Thanks for joining in, Peg. And thanks for your reflections. I look forward to hearing more. David.

report abuse

Ed Gleason

posted June 24, 2008 at 12:13 am

Wife and I conducted a few retreats for Grandparents on ‘Passing on the Faith”. Non -baptized grandchildren were on the agenda big time.
Some admitted to ‘kitchen sink’ rites but there was a bigger consensus for ‘family baptism of desire’. These participants had a amazing number of ways and insights on how to ‘pass it on’.And no trust that the parish is up to the evangelizing job. The youngest Pre-Vatican II educated grandparents will be 70 this year and when this cohort passes the family ‘passing on the faih’ will be almost moot.
Why? The Church will not see the like of this group again with their 12-16 years of Catholic schooling in 40s-50s along with an enthusiastic embrace of Vat.II. Sorry youngsters but this’Greatest Generation’ ignored by the hierarchs, knows what it knows. 40 dioceses are closing 800 churhes according to Council of Parishes [Boston].
We are witnessing the shut down by the inept ‘management’

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!   ...

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That ...

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored ...

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, ...

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's ...

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.