“In those cases where Baptism is permitted, pastoral ministers should exercise prudential judgement when preparing baptismal ceremonies,” the bishops wrote, adding that baptizing children of same-sex households presents “a serious pastoral concern.”
“The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” the working document for the Synod on the Family, which will be held this October, indicates that many respondents to a set of questions distributed throughout the Church last year said it would be “helpful to receive more concrete pastoral directives in these situations.”
When same-sex couples present children for baptism, the document said “almost all the responses emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”
“When people in irregular situations of any kind request baptism for the children in their care, priests and other ministers of the Church should regard it as a precious opportunity with respect to both the children and those presenting them,” Jesuit Father Peter F. Ryan, executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Doctrine.
“On such occasions, the Church’s ministers should beg Jesus for the grace they need to communicate his love and the truth of his life-giving teaching sincerely and effectively. Ministers must also exercise discretion to ensure that the conditions for licit baptisms are fulfilled and scandal is avoided,” Father Ryan told Aleteia.
In trying to balance a child’s right to baptism with the concern of causing scandal, the Church is finding itself “between a rock and a hard place,” said John Grabowski, a professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America.
“The Church, in conferring baptism on children of unmarried couples, particularly same-sex couples, that could be construed by people inside and outside the Church as giving tacit approval of these relationships, and saying that they are just as good as any kind of marriage,” Grabowski told Aleteia.
“The bishops are trying to do the best they can pastorally with an important and sensitive situation, where you have these both sets of interests at tension with each other,” Grabowski said.
Archbishop Carlos Nanez of Cordoba, Argentina, told Catholic New Agency in April that a recent baptism of a baby girl being reared by her biological mother and her same-sex partner did not endorse their lifestyle. The archbishop told CNA that the case “is like that of any other person who asks for baptism,” and that baptism is the girl’s “right.” In Mexico, Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo, in May, baptized a child being raised by a lesbian couple. The archbishop reportedly told local media that if the parents seek baptism, “it’s because there is a Christian faith.”
Father Landry, of the Diocese of Fall River, said one of the lesbian couples who approached him followed through on their promises to raise the child in the Catholic faith. The couple brought the child to Mass on Sundays and did not receive Holy Communion.
“But they were there every week,” Father Landry said. “They were clear about the commitment they made at the baptism. I give them a lot of credit for that.”
Father Landry added that there can be different pastoral assessments of what it means to have a “founded hope” that the parents—and godparents—will carry out the commitments they make on behalf of the child at baptism.
“We absolutely want to be able to baptize babies because of the consequences for salvation that Jesus is very clear about in the Gospels,” Father Landry said. “Myself and most pastors interpret the requirement of a well founded hope leniently when the parents state their intentions to raise their child in accord with the Catholic faith through teaching them and going to Mass. They may not follow through on that, but as long as they make the verbal commitment, that’s enough because we want to see that child baptized.
“It’s not the child’s fault for the circumstances they’re in,” Father Landry added.
Brian Fraga is a daily newspaper reporter who writes from Fall River, Massachusetts.