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The grace of baptism, tradition and clerical customs


Reflection on the responses of the dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning the celebration of baptism and transsexual and homosexual people.

Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of Vatican media

Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage martyred in 258, participating in a Synod of African bishops, observed “that no man coming into existence should be denied the mercy and grace of God”. Saint Augustine wrote: “Little children are presented to receive spiritual grace, not so much by those who carry them in their arms (although this is also the case if they are good faithful) as by the universal society of saints and faithful (. ..) It is the entire Mother Church, that which is in her saints, which acts, because it is she who as a whole gives birth to them, each and every one.”

These two declarations from the Fathers of the Church attest to the absolute freeness of baptism, while relativizing the role of parents and godparents (“if they are good believers“) who ask for the sacrament and present the child. These statements shed light better than others on the recent responses of the dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to questions from a Brazilian bishop on baptism.

The note, signed by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandéz and approved by Pope Francis, shows obvious harmony with the recent papal magisterium. Indeed, Francis has repeatedly insisted that the door to the sacraments, and in particular that of baptism, must not remain closed, and that the Church must never turn into a customs house, but must on the contrary welcome and accompany everyone on the bumpy roads of life.

In the very polarized context which characterizes the Church today, the responses of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith have provoked antagonistic reactions, notably from those who fear that by admitting to the sacrament of baptism the children of couples homosexuals (adopted or children of one of the two partners, possibly resulting from surrogacy), the so-called “gay marriage” and the practice ofuterus rental» be made morally licit. It is also in this sense that we must read, again according to critics, the relaxation of the ban on baptism godparents, which the dicastery presents in a problematic form.

First of all, it is interesting to note a passage from the note, where it is recalled that the responses published these days “repropose, in substance, the fundamental content of what has already been affirmed in the past by this dicastery“. These are previous statements that remain sub secreto (one of which is also cited in the note) which date back to this pontificate and those which preceded it. Furthermore, the very first quotations from the two Fathers of the Church offered at the beginning of this article are contained, along with many others, in a public document of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by the Croatian cardinal Franjo Šeper and the Dominican Archbishop Jérôme Hamer. This is an instruction approved in October 1980 by Saint John Paul II, in which he responds to a series of objections against the celebration of infant baptism, reiterating the importance of a “immemorial practice» of apostolic origin which must not be abandoned.

To those who today would refuse baptism to the children of homosexual couples because by baptizing them the Church would make homosexual unions or the practice of surrogacy morally licit, the 1980 document had in fact indirectly responded in the same way. way, asserting that “the practice of infant baptism is authentically evangelical, because it has a witnessing value; it in fact manifests the thoughtfulness of God and the gratuity of the love which envelops our life: “It is not we who loved God, but he who loved us… We love because God himself loved the first. “Even in adults, the demands that reception of baptism entails should not make us forget that it is not because of meritorious acts that we have accomplished, but in his mercy, that God saved us by the bath of the new birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

Instruction approved by Pope John Paul II 43 years ago obviously took into account the change in social context and secularization: “Pastors may find themselves in the presence of parents who are not very religious and occasionally practicing, or even non-Christian parents who, for reasons worthy of consideration, request baptism for their children.”

How to act in such cases? While the criterion – yesterday and today – remains valid according to which the baptism of children is celebrated if there is a commitment to educate them in a Christian way, the 1980 document specified in this regard: “Regarding guarantees, it must be considered that any assurance giving well-founded hope for the Christian education of children deserves to be considered sufficient“. The practice in force in the parishes attests that like the Nazarene, tireless in search of every lost sheep, it is enough for there to be a parent who commits before the Church not to close the door.

Should we not today believe more in the action of grace which takes place through sacraments which are not a reward for the perfect but a remedy for sinners? Should we not look more at the pages of the Gospel from which emerges Jesus who loves first, forgives first, embraces first with mercy, and it is into this embrace that people’s hearts are driven towards conversion?

And again, what is the children’s fault? Regardless of how they came into the world, they are still God’s loved and cherished creatures. Would it therefore not be better to focus on the positive, namely the fact that people request baptism in a post-Christian context, where it is increasingly rare for this to happen simply by custom?

It is comforting to reread the words of a great 20th century bishop, spoken in a July 1978 interview about Luise Brown, the first test tube baby. He denounced the risk of seeing the birth of “child factories» separated from family contexts and explained that he did not share “only in part» enthusiasm for the experience. But in the end he presented his “warmest wishes to the child» and an affectionate thought to the parents, saying: “I have no right to condemn them: subjectively, if they acted with right intention and in good faith, they may even have great merit before God for what they decided and asked the doctors to carry out “. This bishop was called Albino Luciani, he was Patriarch of Venice, a month later he became Pope John Paul I and today he is blessed.

Gn world Fr

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