(RNS) Despite numerous controversies over dismissing gay Catholics from church posts and the U.S. hierarchy’s campaign against same-sex marriage, Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized.

But a move by a bishop in Wisconsin to route all such decisions through his office is raising questions about whether that neutral zone will now become another battleground, and whether the growing acceptance of gay parents will inevitably draw more attention to this practice and force church leaders to establish clearer rules.

The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday (June 26) — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

They generally let parish priests make the final call and let them administer the sacrament, though it is usually done in a private ceremony with the biological parent — not the adoptive mother or father — listed on the baptismal certificate.

The new debate was prompted by the emergence of a memo — first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal — that was sent in early May to priests of the Madison Diocese by the top aide to Bishop Robert Morlino.

James Bartylla is Vicar General of the Diocese of Madison. Under an administrative change enacted earlier this year, his office now handles priests' inquiries about whether to baptize children of same-sex couples. In the past, this issue was largely left up to the discretion of individuals priests.

Monsignor James Bartylla is vicar general of the Diocese of Madison. Under an administrative change enacted earlier this year, his office now handles priests’ inquiries about whether to baptize children of same-sex couples. In the past, this issue was largely left up to the discretion of individual priests. RNS photo courtesy Brent King, Diocese of Madison

In the memo, the vicar general of the diocese, Monsignor James Bartylla, says there are “a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording.”

Bartylla says that pastors must now coordinate any decision on baptizing the children of gay couples with his office and that “each case must be evaluated individually.”

A spokesman for the Madison Diocese, Brent King, said in an email that the new policy would not affect the church’s openness to baptizing a child if a parent or guardian “is sincere in presenting a child for baptism” and if he or she “truly intends to raise the child in the faith and all that means.”

“We want everyone to receive this most important sacrament, and we are dealing with this sensitive matter prudently, for the child’s sake and the integrity of this most sacred sacrament,” wrote King. He added that the diocese would have no further comment.

But some suspect that Morlino, one of the more outspoken conservatives in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will use the new policy to curb baptisms that he considers problematic.

“While this process might protect couples from the negative whims of a local pastor, Bishop Morlino has such a strong record against supporting lesbian and gay people that I worry he might be more restrictive about baptizing their children than most local priests would be,” said Francis DeBernardo, head of New Ways Ministry, a leading advocacy group for gay Catholics.

If that happens, he said, it “has the potential to blow up into a pastoral disaster.”

Officials at the USCCB said these decisions are left to local church leaders, and indicated there are no plans to formulate a national directive beyond the guidance offered in a 2006 statement on ministering to gay people. That document says that baptizing the children of gay parents is “a serious pastoral concern” but that the church should not refuse them access to the sacrament.

Since the bishops passed that document, however, an ongoing wave of victories for same-sex marriage advocates has continued to push the issue into the public arena. As more gay Catholics can marry, and can be open about their relationship, more gay couples may be presenting their children for baptism.

“The question with gay couples is whether their opposition to the church’s teaching on marriage means that they do not in fact intend to raise the child in the faith,” said Rita Ferrone, the author of several books about liturgy and a consultant to U.S. dioceses on liturgical matters.

“Gay parents may or may not be ideologically opposed to church teaching, but chances are they do not merely disobey but also reject the various norms they have transgressed,” Ferrone said.

DeBernardo said the problem with a policy that focuses specifically on gay parents is that it “stigmatizes lesbian and gay couples as being more suspect than any other parents.”

“It is very likely that no parents that present a child for baptism are perfectly following all church rules,” he said. “Why single out only lesbian and gay parents for further scrutiny?”

Countering any trend to curb baptisms, however, is the long-standing presumption, in church teaching and among even conservative church leaders, that no child should be denied baptism.

That welcoming stance was given a powerful boost with the election of Pope Francis, who as an archbishop in Argentina castigated priests who refused to baptize the children of unwed mothers. “The child has absolutely no responsibility for the state of his parents’ marriage,” he also said.

As pope, Francis has continued to promote that view.

Last September he said that while the church has the right to express its opinions it cannot “interfere spiritually” in the lives of gays and lesbians. In January he personally baptized — in the Sistine Chapel — the child of a couple married civilly, not in the church. And in May he said in a homily the church should baptize little green men from Mars if they asked for it.

Some bishops are taking a cue from Francis.

In Mexico, Bishop Raul Vera Lopez personally baptized a 16-month-old raised by a lesbian couple. He did that in May,  just two weeks after meeting in Rome with Francis and discussing his ministry to gay people with him.

“If I find the natural daughter of one of two women, how can I deny her baptism? If the parents seek it, it’s because there is a Christian faith,” Vera Lopez explained. “The pope has the same attitude as Christ did.”

In Argentina in April, the archbishop of Cordoba also defended the decision to baptize the child of a lesbian couple during a service in the city’s cathedral, and said he cleared it with the Vatican.

“Baptism is a right of every human person, and I think that the Holy Father as well, ever since he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, always advocated for great openness in administering these sacraments,” said Archbishop Carlos Nanez.

And just this week, a major document published by the Vatican to guide future discussions on family life stressed that almost all the world’s bishops would greet requests to baptize children living with gay couples “with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”

YS/AMB END GIBSON

52 Comments

  1. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes baptisms performed by other Christian denominations. The gay couple can simply go to an accommodating liberal Protestant church and the RCC would recognize the baptism as valid.

    • Yes, baptisms by other Christian communities are valid! As long as it is with water and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and the intention is to do what the Church does when she baptizes.

      People baptized by other Christian groups DO NOT BECOME CATHOLIC though. They cannot receive the other Sacraments in the Catholic Church, and they are not bound by Catholic Church law… they are not under obligation to come to Catholic Mass on Sunday, they are not bound by the Catholic Church’s canon law in regards to marriage, etc. A child baptized by a non-Catholic Church would need to convert to Catholicism before he or she could receive their First Holy Communion or any other Sacraments in the Catholic Church. There is a process of instruction, prayer and liturgical rites called Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for adults who want to become Catholic, and for kids there is a Rite of Christian Initiation for Children. To be received into the Church, the person makes a statement that they believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and proclaims to be true to be revealed by God.

      • Julianne Wiley

        Don’t know how far you can stretch the word “political” until it has no meaning whatsoever. This is not about votes, political parties, elected or appointed offices, public policy proposals, or civil or criminal legislation. This is about sacraments and pastoral care.

        When an infant is baptized, its parent(s) promise to raise the child Catholic. If the parents have publicly repudiated Catholic faith and morals, their agreement would be dishonest, obtaining a Sacrament by fraud; and fraud nullifies consent.

        You can see that, can’t you?

        • Using that standard, any unwed mother, or couple married outside of the Church, or even a divorced woman with an infant would then “have publicly repudiated Catholic faith and morals”. It’s not that simple.

          We are human. We have made, and will continue to make, decisions that are not directly connected. Our continued acceptance of the Catholic faith does not prevent making decisions that our priest might not agree with. The RCC has a LONG history of harboring disagreements. VCII was written, in part by some RC theologians who were censored at the time. Among the teachings of the RCC is that the Spirit of God is alive and present in the Church. Those who continue to practice and participate are “the Church” whether they also use contraception, are divorced or married outside of the Church, or are married to persons of their own gender. If only the ordained or those completely in agreement on these issues were “the Church” it would have disappeared a long time ago.

  2. The baptism of the child is not about the sinfulness of the “parents.” If anything the child needs it as they are in a “less than” situation and are already at a serious disadvantage. The child shouldn’t suffer further because of the sins of others.

    • Julianne Wiley

      The child is “suffering further” if he is given a sacrament based on fraud: his parents’ dishonest consent, as explained above.

      It is not fair to involve a child in a sacrilege.

      If the parents truly uphold Catholic faith and morals, they should proclaim it in public and resolve to seek pastoral aid in overcoming any habitual sins. We all have sins; I daresay we all have habitual ones. But we repent them and resolve not to repeat them. We don’t have Sin Pride parades.

      • Are you beyond conversion? Are you not the pilgrim church, ever seeking, never resting to find God? What is a parent who “truly (upholds) Catholic faith and morals” to do with their gay or transgendered child? Who are you to judge? You have no habitual sins? You have announced them in public? Sought pastoral aid? Kept your parish aware of your progress?

        If you are without sin, cast that stone. Or you could act like Jesus would.

  3. “The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday (June 26) — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.”

    How can you assume a “married” lesbian couple is going to raise their child Catholic? Their “marriage” is an obvious admission they dont really accept Catholicism. Granted, all children should be baptised, IF their parents are believers. Child baptism presumes the child will exposed to faith as it grows up, not exposed to heresy. Its not about “punishing” children. Its about accepting the reality of the situation. Is everyone into denying reality these days?

    I dont get it. Can someone please explain?

        • Because Mickey is using open admissions of not living a lifestyle approved by Catholic Church as grounds for denying baptism. That puts divorced and remarried people in the same category. But of course they are not given the same treatment.

          Frankly this is not a battle that I have any level of care for. If the the church doesn’t want to baptize babies of gay couples, so be it. It is of no practical concern for anyone except the church hierarchy. Its not a rights or liberties issue. Its purely how the Catholic church wants to present itself in public. Let them work it out and deal with the consequences of whatever policy they chose.

    • I agree. Baptism, along with the other sacraments, is just another hocus-pocus rite that the hierarchy of the catholic church has taught its members to believe is necessary for their salvation. How archaic!! And how absurd!!
      Do they still believe in that fictional place called “limbo”, where they claim that non-baptized babies go if they die? What kind of cruel god do these people believe in? One can only wonder why anyone — gay or straight — would believe in, and want to take part in, such nonsense!!

  4. No child should be denied Baptism; this does not change the fact that the persons presenting the child to be baptized must be in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    • No child should be denied baptism except if their parents are of a group the Church feels like hating. Then the children must pay the price.

      The Catholic Church has a funny attitude towards children. When they are gestating, they are innocents to be protected at all costs, even if it means the death of the mother or a lifetime of poverty and hardship. When they are born, they are playthings for predatious clergy or disposable (as with the case in Ireland). Now they are used for pointing fingers of shame at parents for being what they are.

      • You do know that the reported case in Ireland was almost a complete lie, right. And second, isn’t the point of the article to show that all the children are going to get baptize?

        • The Ireland thing was not a complete lie, just exaggerated. There were dead children buried there without proper graves. Just not as many and not in the septic tank.

          The point of the article is that it is a point of contention.

    • Correct, and just how is this gay couple to raise this child in the faith when the faith states clearly that the parents are not in full communion with the Church? The child will eventually know this if they actually raise him or her in the true faith. What a MESS.

    • Julianne Wiley

      According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, lack of baptism does not deprive babies of the love of Jesus Christ. Even when infants or children die without Baptism, the Catholic funeral rite entrusts them to the mercy of God. So this question of whether unbaptized children can come to Christ does not pertain directly to the question at hand.

      If the parents want baptism for their child, and they know that this requires that they raise their child in the faith and morals of the Church, shouldn’t thy accept the faith and morals of the Church?

      Or are they claiming they will give something to their child that they themselves neither desire, practice, or profess?

      • There are a great many families who live outside of the “faith and morals of the Church” – second marriages, unwed mothers, families that practice contraception, masturbate or even those who are lustful, even within their otherwise “good marriage”. Those families may want something different for their children, or may not see anything particularly wrong with their lifestyles. All pledge to raise the children Catholic. To the best of their ability. That is every Catholic’s aspiration. There are many sins, and many of them mortal, habitual or even socially encouraged and condoned.

        There is a judge. It isn’t me. Or you. Or the Church, for that matter. Pope Francis urges a re-focusing on the more vital aspects of our faith today – rather than worrying about what our neighbor is doing in bed, we are encouraged to concern ourselves with caring for one another. I will follow that advice.

    • Agreed!! That made me scratch my head and say HUH?
      Baptism of infants and children is not biblical and cannot “erase” the original sin all are born with.
      Jesus himself was baptized as a grown man to demonstrate the act of being ” born again.”
      Although he did not have to repent for he was sinless, ALL must repent and be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
      The RCC ignores this fundamental commandment of Jesus, John 3:5, Acts 2:38. Babies cannot repent therefore the baptism they recieve is not sound doctrine but false doctrine of the RCC. The adult RC are living in a false state of grace, receiving incomplete biblical teaching, never fully understanding and experiencing the complete remission of their sins and the process of being born again through full immersion water baptism when they answer the call to surrender, submit and repent, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:2-3, Luke 24:46-47.
      If only RC would read the Word, they would see that the false doctrines of the RCC do not align with scriptures. This is how you know whether you belong to a true church and not a false one like the RCC, LDS, SDA and JW. These all use scriptures and twist them to back up their false teachings. Everyone of these false churches doctrines can be revealed by scriptures.
      I was raised in the RCC but I’m a born again believer , I was water baptized and baptized in the Holy Spirit nearly 4 yrs ago. Truly seek the Father and he will reveal the truth to you.
      Don’t just accept what you’ve been told. If it doesn’t sound right, it’s because the Holy Spirit is trying to let you know that it isn’t right.
      We are on the threshold of tribulation, seek Jesus in the Word while you still can. Time is short. Get out of the false churches before it is too late. The King is coming. Make sure your lamp is full at all times!! SHALOM

      • The Catholic Church determined which books were to canonized as Sacred Scripture at the Council of Carthage in 397a.d. I just laugh and shake my head when protestants (who didn’t come along until 1500 years later) claim the Catholic Church doesn’t know the word of God. Even more shameful coming from a fallen away, heretical Catholic who should know better, but was probably catechised poorly.

  5. Woe unto you hypocrites. Was it not Jesus himself who said, “…Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.”

    –Matthew 19:14

    Those of you who would deny children baptism represent the most demonic forces prowling about.

    • Steve D: seriously? That’s all you can base your claim is on the council of Carthage? What about the Holy Scriptures?? You hold on to the words of Pharisees over scriptures. The RCC was established by a pagan roman emperor, Constatine. The RCC is a “christianized” pagan temple. Idolatry, ancient pagan rituals and traditions have persisted and passed down through the ages in the church of Babylon=RCC. Stop kneeling before statues and praying to demonic spirits in the name of “saints” and Mary. The church of Babylon is the false church, the Vatican. Jesus said he would send ONE SPIRT to help us John 16:7, John 14:26, John 15:26, John 14:16. It makes me laugh that brainwashed foolish RC think they are right just because they believe the false teachings and mumbo jumbo fed to them without dusting off & opening their bibles, if they have one. They leave it up to the spiritually blind priest to led them to damnation. Do you really believe Mary interceded for you? Jesus never referred to his mother as being a helper or intercessor. Jesus alone is our intercessor, Rom 8:34. He also only referred to YAHOVAH as The Father. He also commanded that we call no man father yet the RCC blatantly and ignorantly continues this practice of calling priests “father”, Matt 23:9. Never once did he mention his mother as a spiritual helper. Pagan religions such as Hindus, wiccans and Catholics focus their worship on goddesses. Many RCC are named after a saint or virgin such and such, aren’t they? I would say 99% of RCC are named as such and not in the name of Jesus. That should give you a clue that this is a temple of idols. So sad that you know not the scriptures to know that you are ensnared by false teachings. The entire plan of God was completed in Genesis 1, but you pope the “holy father” claims that Genesis is simply an allegory. Mary and saints are not included in His plan of salvation. His plan and work is perfect and divine, He did not have to throw them in as a bonus. It would serve you well to know that “Mary” appeared as a “lady of light”, perhaps you didn’t know that satan transforms himself as an angel of light too,2 Cor 11:14. I pray for RC that they will open their ears and be awakened by the heretic claims of the pope and seek the truth in the Word of God. Be a wise virgin not a FOOLISH one!!Shalom to all!

      • Well, I have to hand it to you prayntongues, you’ve managed to squeeze almost every Protestant lie about the Church into one paragraph. But that’s what protestants do, they “protest” the Church. Every argument you make is easily repudiated, but trying to argue with someone that has a closed heart (and no central teaching authority) is useless. I wonder if you even realize Luther still had a strong devotion to Mary after he became a heretic? By the way, God commanded statues of angels to be erected on top of the Arc of the Covenant, yes statues (aghast! how pagan of Him!). I recommend you reread the Book of James, we are not saved by faith “alone” (a word Luther added to the Bible).

      • ““There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

        -Archbishop Fulton Sheen

  6. The more gay couples participate in the church the more entrenched they become. If in their humility they don’t receive communion, because of their sinful acts they still by their presence advocate for their lifestyle as something good. If they do receive communion because there are many sinners who receive communion the pastor allows the blessed sacrament to be falsely consumed. In large parishes not everyone knows who the adulterer is or the tax cheater, but just by two men or women with children attending mass all know who are gay. I left a parish just for this reason. Not only were the gay couple receiving communion and the pastor knew them on a first name basis one of them was a Eucharistic member.

    • Let’s see if I’ve got this correct: You saw same-sex couples with kids at Mass in your former parish. You are most likely correct in assuming that they’re homosexuals. Beyond that, you know absolutely nothing else, do you?

      And so on that basis you, you up and left! Presumably you found a parish that doesn’t have any of them homos attending Mass.

      You certainly did the right thing, and are a fine example to the rest of us.

      • You want more info. They wore rings, one advocates for homosexual marriage on their website, on a social website there were well wishes for their marriage, their children go to the parochial school my kids went to, and they attended school events together. I waited to see if the issue would be addressed by the pastor, I wrote to the bishop,I read the Catechism of the catholic Church, I prayed on it and then I decided that this was not what I want to give approval to by staying there. Homosexual acts are sins. Having an openly married homosexual person distribute the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is scandalous. Teaching children that sins are o.k. by advocating for them with silent approval or works is wrong. There is nothing wrong with discerning if it is done with a developed conscious rather that rash statements that you have made.
        Matthew 18:6
        “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
        New International Version (NIV)

        • And are YOU to hang that millstone? I thought that was God’s job. Teaching children to judge others and reject others based on our own discomfort is also wrong. And acting as a judge in a place where God is the authority, where God calls others to be and practice and come to Him is spiritually abusive. You can model intolerance and make a place of worship unaccessible and unsafe. That lack of respect of the essential dignity of the human person based can also result in children who will not bring their own uncertainly, or their certainly of their misdeeds – to the Church. If they have to run the gauntlet of your judgement to get the forgiveness of God…well, many just turn away. God didn’t drive them away. Their fear of YOUR judgement did and will continue to.

    • Well, how very christian of you to judge people like that. I can only assume that you are without sin, for you have, indeed, thrown the first stone.

  7. I don’t believe children should be punished for the behavior of their parents. I think the bigger battle would come during confirmation instruction. Will two (or three or four as we seem to be moving that way) gay parents want their children taught what the Bible actually says about sexual ethics if it stands in judgment of homosexuality just to get their kids confirmed into a church that recognizes that homosexual behavior is not according to God’s design for humanity.

  8. St.Paul very clearly indicates he thought homosexuals chose this life. Who would chose it? It’s innate.
    St. Paul also said that he would not allow women to have authority over men. Are we proof-texting here?

  9. Tiffello@aol.com

    Why in the world would any gay couple want to raise their child Catholic? I walked out that church years ago because I was sick and tired of their hypocrisy.. Heterosexuals that commit sin by divorcing, having children out of wedlock or engage in premarital sex are all welcomed in the Catholic Church but if you are gay the Church all of a sudden finds the bible to use against you.. The church has never defined a good sin versus a bad sin, but clearly they make distinctions. Hate is a taught behavior and I would never subject my child to this bishops self righteous bigotry.

    • And as I remember from my years being abused in the Catholic school system, I think ANYONE can baptize another person, regardless of age! “Battlefield baptisms” were discussed…..and the “battlefield” right now is keeping the Church from infringing human rights, especially the personal rights of women and the gay community. The hatefulness and stupidity of the Church is truly evident in this laughable push to curtail baptisms of legally and lovingly adopted babies.

  10. I think the new “battlefield” should be focused efforts to have the tax-free status of the Catholic Church removed!!! With their constant and concerted effort to infringe on the civil rights of so many, and the personal freedoms of women, they are no longer just a “religion”, but an organized and obstructive political force. This is just one more proof of their hatefulness. They didn’t seem to oppose the birth of these children, though, did they, in fact, probably worked at denying the very birth control or abortion that would have prevented the need for these babies to ever have been baptized in the first place. End the tax-exempt status for the Catholic Church!!!

  11. Daniel Berry, NYC

    Reminds me of the bishop in Milwaukee who told the mother she had to either distance herself from her gay son or face hell for all eternity. then he got busted.

    I’d say it’s only a matter of time – and not too much either – before this gay-faced monsignior and his bishop get busted under similar circumstances.

    You’d think the hypocrisy would stop daring to speak its name.

  12. Richard Baldwin Cook

    Odd to denounce / embrace a document without being able to read the entire document. We are into trust-me-journalism.

    Are all of the priests so intimidated by this bishop that not a single of them will provide a copy of the memo? That sad state of affairs would be a bigger story: God has freed you, boys, from the principalities and the powers, but not a pissed off bishop.

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