A reader writes:
Recently my parish priest
baptized the child of a lesbian couple. Now, I haven’t spoken with him
yet, but I will. So for instance, I don’t know if the couple is
sexually intimate or even practicing Catholics. In any event, where
does the church stand on this issue? I’d like to know your thoughts
before I speak to my priest and then my bishop who I will also speak
The relevant Church law is expressed in the following canon:
Can. 868 §1. For an infant to be baptized licitly:
1/ the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent;
2/ there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason.
Strictly speaking, it doesn’t matter whether the parents or guardians of the child are themselves Catholic. What matters is that the child will be brought up Catholic.
(This is something that has been relevant at various times in history. For example, I was reading an article a while back about some villagers in Indo-China who were themselves unwilling to become Christian but who were most anxious to have their children brought up to be Catholics.)
The question for your purposes is whether the clause I’ve highlighted in blue is fulfilled if the caretakers of the child are a lesbian couple.
It seems to me that this matter is not clear.
While it’s true that the individuals can take the necessary steps to raise the child as a Catholic so that the child comes to think of himself as a Catholic and so that he goes to Mass and the sacraments and even learns the basics of the faith, it nevertheless seems to me that there is an argument that the living arrangement of his caretakers of itself constitutes a fundamental barrier to the child receiving an authentically Catholic formation–not to mention what they’re likely to teach him about sexuality.
In fact, it seems to me that one could argue that the child would not, in fact, be brought up in the Catholic religion but in a heresy since the child would in all likelihood be brought up to doubt or deny the fact that homosexual behavior is intrinsically sinful–this point being contained in the deposit of faith (e.g., read Romans 1) and having been defined by the orginary and universal Magisterium of the Church, qualifying it as a point that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith and thus making its obstinate post-baptismal doubt or denial a heresy.
The child, as a child, would not be obstinately doubting or denying it (within the canonical meaning of "obstinate") by just taking his "parents" word for it, but one could nevertheless argue that the child was being raised in material heresy and not the Catholic religion.
On the other hand . . .
Rome hasn’t said that, and Rome baptizes the kids of all kinds of parents who are likely to raise their kids in material heresy.
Americans–who tend to read and apply the law very rigorously–are often shocked when they learn just how permissive Europeans are in applying the law regarding the above canon.
This is perhaps nowhere more clearly on display than in the Church’s documents regarding the pastoral care of Gypsies.
I’ve been meaning to blog about that–and will soon–but it’s stunning the pastoral concessions that are granted to Gypsies in the main document. It is clear that, while many Gypsies are nominally Catholic, the Church is perfectly willing to baptize their children even though they have moral certitude that the child will not be raised to participate in multiple sacraments. Yet the relevant dicastery has judged that helping Gypsies maintain at least some kind of Catholic identity, even if it is a gravely impaired one.
And the same goes for numerous non-Gypsy Europeans who happen to be pro-abort and pro-homosexual and who plan to raise their children to be the same. Their kids get baptized, too.
So based on European praxis, it seems that a person could well argue that "being raised in the Catholic religion" means only acquiring a minimal–one might even say nominal–Catholic identity, and this could be fulfilled by two lesbians promising to raise the child Catholic.
Thus the law seems to me not to be sufficiently clear on this point, and we could use a clarification from Rome.
The changing nature of society–as well as the dramatic weakening of Catholic identity in the developed world–is likely to force the Church at some point to clarify this and even to reconsider whether a foreseen minimal Catholic identity for the child is enough to warrant baptizing him.
In the meantime, as it is a doubtful point of law and a matter of significant pastoral concern, I would say that you are well within your rights to talk to your pastor and bishop about it and make your opinions (whatever they may be) known in a respectful manner.