Pastoral Letter on Infant Baptism

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, who brings us good news for our lives here on earth and calls us to eternal joy in the life to come! I write this pastoral letter to you, dear people, at the request of the pastors of the Archdiocese who are concerned about some pastoral issues related to Baptism.

In Baptism we become sons and daughters of God and members of His holy Church. Through Baptism all our sins are taken away, both original sin and personal sin. The words of Jesus are clear "Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God". (John 3:5) Consequently, since Baptism is necessary for salvation, the Church baptizes not only adults but infants as well.

Infant Baptism

Not many years ago, even the most lax Catholics saw to the prompt Baptism of their children. Now, however, a number of pastors have told me that some Catholic parents see no urgency in having their children baptized. Some of these parents simply have failed to make it a priority. Others have said they want to have the child decide on his or her own whether or not to be baptized and to determine when he or she wants to receive it. In doing this they are neglecting a serious duty they have as parents. Any Catholic parent who delays Baptism for more than a few months may be in danger of serious sin. If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptized without any delay, if need be, even by a lay person. (Canon 867)

What good parents would give their children the option of going to school or not going to school? What parents would hesitate to teach their children their own spiritual and ethical values at the earliest age?

Just as citizenship at birth does not take away political freedom at a later age, infant baptism does not take away religious freedom when the child matures. Upon reaching maturity, every person is free to accept or reject Christ but if a person does not first know Him, how can one be free to accept or reject Him?

The baptism of children has been a constant practice of the Church from earliest times. In the Acts of the Apostles (16:15) St. Paul baptizes a devout woman named Lydia near Philippi and her household with her. Later, St. Paul baptizes the jailer with his whole family (Acts 16:33). We believe that Paul baptized the children as well as the adults. Many other scripture passages indicate the same practice.

Parents

The Baptism of infants would be meaningless if there was not a well founded hope of the Christian upbringing of the children. The parents supply the act of faith for their infants until such time as they can profess a mature Christian faith on their own. Therefore the Church insists on the parents making a solemn promise to raise their children Catholic. It is the ministry of the godparents to assist the parents in this duty. At a minimum, this means that the parents will have their children educated in the Catholic faith and receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion, and Confirmation at the proper time.

Pastoral Concerns

I am grateful to our pastors for the ministry they exercise in preparing parents for the baptism of their children. They are responsible for implementing the pastoral norms we follow in the Archdiocese on Baptism and the other Sacraments.

While we must provide the parents with Baptismal classes, the instruction must not be unduly burdensome, should be offered frequently and provision should be made for those who honestly cannot attend the required classes without undue hardship.

All the Catholic faithful who live within the boundaries of our parishes have a right to present their children for Baptism, whether they are registered or not. (However, isn’t this an excellent opportunity to register them?)

The Church requires that the parents make a serious promise to raise the child Catholic. It does not require that the parents themselves be practicing, as ideal as that would be. Baptism and the subsequent formation of the child’s faith often helps those parents return to the practice of their faith. We should presume good will on the part of the parents that seek to have their children baptized and remember the basic principal that when in doubt, we should administer the sacrament.

We should also insist on qualified godparents who are practicing Catholics in accord with Church law and our own Archdiocesan norms.

Conclusion

It is with joy that I see thousands of children in our Archdiocese reborn each year in Baptism and see our Catholic faith, brought to this land over 400 years ago, passed on to the next generation of believers. May God bless the parents who bring their children to Christ! May God reward our hard working pastors who are spiritually shepherding our young people! May we all seek to live out our Baptism as joyful and faithful followers of Jesus!

Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan
Archbishop of Santa Fe
March 2000