Blog Post

Prelates Deal with Problem of Waning Baptisms

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist The Church in South America is responding to the crisis of waning baptisms in the western world by holding “baptism days” when children and adults who are not actively practicing their faith can receive the sacrament. According to an article appearing in the Italian daily, Chiesa, the rise of secularism and relativism has found that in many parts of the western world, baptizing a child has become the exception rather than the rule. Many believe this decline is due to a weakening of the family and withdrawal from the Church with some clergy believing it is right to refuse the sacrament under these circumstances. However, prelates in South America are moving in the opposite direction and taking a more pragmatic approach that is more in line with what Pope Benedict XVI has himself expressed. For instance, some pastors in the archdiocese of Buenos Aires in Argentina are holding regular "baptism days," on which they administer the sacrament to children and adults in broken family situations.  In an interview with the international magazine, 30 Days, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, said he approves of this move away from the more restrictive approach to baptism that requires both parents and godparents to be regular practitioners of the faith. "The child has no responsibility for the condition of his parents’ marriage,” the Cardinal said. “The baptism of children can, on the contrary, become a new beginning for the parents.” He told the story of the time he baptized the seven children of a woman who confessed that she was living in mortal sin after having her children by two different men. As a result, she could not have any of them baptized. After meeting with the woman and giving her “a little catechesis,” the Cardinal baptized all of the children in his own residence. The Cardinal said he believes that the Church needs to proclaim the Gospel “by going to meet the people, not by waiting for the people to come to us. . . . The sacraments are for the life of men and women as they are . . . .” This position opens a long-standing debate in the Church about the conditions under which this sacrament should be administered. “Rigorists” hold that baptism must be withheld from those who are not practicing while others, including Pope Benedict XVI, think the rules need to be relaxed. The Holy Father commented about the situation during a question-and-answer session from priests in Bressanone, Italy, in 2008 when a pastor asked him about how to deal with the issue of waning baptisms. “When I was younger I was rather severe,” the pope answered. “I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. And then I always used to talk to my parish priest when I was Archbishop of Munich: here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open – according to many official authorities – with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion.” While saying that reception of the sacraments requires an element of faith, if there is some flame of desire for the sacraments in the person, it is better to be “broad-minded,” he said. He also pointed out that the mediocre faith of children is largely the result of parents who are not practicing the faith. “I know that children often have the intention and desire to go to Sunday Mass but their parents do not make this desire possible. If we see that children want it, that they have the desire to go, this seems to me almost a sacrament of desire, the ‘will’ to participate in Sunday Mass. In this sense, we naturally must do our best in the context of preparation for the sacraments to reach the parents as well, and thus to – let us say – awaken in them too a sensitivity to the process in which their child is involved.” This is why work with parents is so important, he said, “because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children . . . . “ While calling his answer “inadequate,” the Pope went on to say “the proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus’ love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time." © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®