Sometimes, I come across articles that simply break my heart. This was one of them – in Moldova, a six-week-old baby died during a baptism. The priest who performed the ceremony is now accused of accidentally drowning the child. Onlookers say that Father Valentin, the priest, failed to cover the baby’s nose and mouth when he immersed him three times in water. Twenty minutes later, the child started bleeding from the nose and mouth, and died on the way to the hospital. A post-mortem revealed that he had drowned.
The priest is denying responsibility for the baby’s death, but the family seems convinced that his negligence was the cause. The baby’s godmother, Aliona Vacarciuc, said, “The baby was crying as he went into the water. We couldn’t believe it but we thought the priest must know what he’s doing, but he didn’t. When we got him back there was nothing that could be done anymore.”
This was not the priest’s first baptism, and he claims that he followed Church protocol. A manslaughter investigation has been launched, and the priest could face up to three years in prison.
Of course, it’s too early to tell what verdict will arrive from this case, and I don’t want to declare the priest guilty before a court. But this is clearly a very delicate situation, and one that parents must constantly fear. Trusting your child’s life to another person, especially so soon after his birth, is a challenge, and priests must certainly be aware that they have an intense responsibility – I’ve never seen (and couldn’t find) statistics on infant mortality due to baptism, but after being immersed in water three times, it definitely seems possible that a baby could drown.
Like any other person assigned to care for a child, the priest has a responsibility for the child’s life – and if the priest was indeed negligent, he should be punished. Of course, this is probably no help to the grieving family, but I’m sure that it’s equally devastating to feel betrayed by a religious authority. In this sense, if the priest was being careless, his actions are even more damaging. It also makes me that much more leery of infant baptism – although it has a long and complex theological history, people should also be aware of the fact that it can be dangerous. It’s ironic that infant baptism became popular because because infant mortality was so high – babies needed to be baptized so that they could enter heaven, even if they died – but now, that seems to be a far less compelling reason.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.