For centuries, the Catholic church taught that infants who had died before they were baptized were consigned to a halfway house between Heaven and Hell called Limbo. In the last twenty years, the RCC has moved away from its Limbo teaching and now states that it “hopes” unbaptized babies will be allowed into Heaven. But baptizing babies from Catholic families is still a VERY important priority in the Catholic religion in stark contrast to the church’s liberal attitude with regards to non-Catholics and baptism.
Recently, I was listening to a podcast of the “Calling all Catholics” radio talk show and heard an example of how Catholicism still gets wrapped tightly around the axle over baptism technicalities.
Called to Communion – EWTN Radio – 4/1/19
Host – David Anders, Moderator – Thom Price
Beginning at the 16:07 mark, Anna from Omaha, Nebraska called in to say her aunt had stopped practicing her Catholic “faith” because the woman’s baby was born stillborn and her parish priest refused to baptize the baby because it was dead. Anna wanted to know from host and apologist, David Anders, if miscarried or stillborn babies can still be baptized. Let’s see how Anders responded:
David Anders: The church does baptize stillborn babies, and in the same way that the church would give last rites, anointings, and so forth, and absolution, to a person who had died biologically at the end of their life. Now, there’s a point beyond which you won’t do that. I mean you’re not going to baptize a corpse that’s three weeks old. You’re not going to anoint a corpse that’s in the grave three weeks. But when the priest is headed to the hospital to perform either an emergency baptism or last rites, and the nurse runs out and says,
“Don’t worry about it, father, the person just passed.” The priest says, “Uh, sorry, excuse me, I’m coming in anyway,” because we don’t know the moment of metaphysical death. We know the moment of biological death. We can put that in a text book. But we don’t know when metaphysical death occurs. I’m not a priest. I don’t have a copy of the ritual in front of me and I don’t actually know what the (Canon) law says about how long can you legitimately wait, but we have a preference for performing the sacrament, and yes, you can baptize either a baby or an adult person who has expired because we don’t know for sure. You can’t wait a week, but, yeah, if you’re five minutes late, sure, yes you can, and the church has always done that.
Anders states above that a baby can be baptized after he/she has died. He specifies five minutes as an allowable lapse between death and baptism, but then cites three weeks and then a week as obviously unallowably long lapses. Well, what then is the absolute legal limit for baptism after biological death? Is it ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? Thirty minutes? I searched the Catholic Code of Canon Law on Baptism (Cann. 849-878) and there are no allowances made for baptizing babies that have already died. The closest related Canon is Canon 871: “If aborted fetuses are alive, they are to be baptized insofar as possible.”
In an article in the Journal of the Catholic Health Association, chaplains at Catholic hospitals are advised NOT to baptize dead infants, with no lingering time allowances specified. In fact, the article argues very strongly against baptizing deceased babies. See here.
Once again we have an example of Catholicism creating a legalistic rabbit hole where there is no authoritative answer for this, that, and the other exception.
In contrast to convoluted Catholic teaching, we read in the Bible that Jesus Christ invites all young children to abide with Him:
“But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 19:14
Baptism saves no one! It is Jesus Christ who saves. Repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone. Praise the Lord God for the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.