It’s a question that seems almost purposefully constructed to stump you, along the lines of a Zen koan or the philosopher’s favorite about God making a rock too heavy for himself to lift.
Focus on the Children
Should the quadruplets conceived by artificial insemination and raised by their biological father and his homosexual partner be baptized in the Catholic Church?
I must confess, it was a headline that caused even me, quite accustomed to seeing the oddest news about our church, to blink. For there it was: the big event celebrated in late October in the cathedral of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. Happy quads baptized, happy dads blessed by the celebrant priest.
The debate, of course, is not a new one, only the contemporary shade of the major players’ potential (according to some) “unworthiness” for baptism. Throughout Church history, the argument has raged, even aside from the questions over infant baptism itself.
This is a tough question, and one in which both sides have justifiable worries.
For those who respond, instinctively, “sure” (and I’ll admit I’m in that camp), there are serious questions about the supposed lifestyle of the two men raising these children and the message sent to the broader community about homosexuality.
After all, how can you agree to raise a child in the faith, if you’re living outside it yourself, in this particular way, which is kind of serious?
Well, I’d argue in response that the fundamental issue here is the children. The situation is done. They are who are being raised in this way. We can’t minister to them as a Church, frankly, until they’re actually in the Church and baptism is what accomplishes that.
But I’d also say that the Lexington baptism seems to have been handled very poorly. I would be much more comfortable with the situation if it had been a private affair and, of course, there had been no blessing of the two men, and the focus on the children was clear. I would also want to trust that the priest had a good pastoral relationship with these men and had made clear to them that if they’re not living in a chaste friendship, they’re in serious sin, and that impacts their relationship to Church life, if not the children’s, and in no way are they to use this baptism as a way to manipulate the public’s understanding of church teaching on homosexuality.
Concern for Mixed Messages
Those who oppose the children’s baptisms have some questions to answer, as well, it seems.
The concern for mixed messages is important, as is the concern about the apparent illogic of those living outside the Faith in this way promising to bring up children in the Faith.
Isn’t that just kind of joke, or even worse, an insult?
It’s true that in a situation like this, the priest has no obligation to baptize the children, and has the right to defer it until he feels the issue of the children’s experience of the faith is settled.
But…deferred until when? Until the kids get baptized down the street in the Methodist Church…probably.
As we reflect on this knotty question, it might be good, just for a moment, to turn the question back on ourselves, and the beams in our own eyes, as we stand at the baptismal font.
After all all of us make our promises on behalf of our children to be baptized. How many of us are perfect reflections of that faith? How many of us are flawless witnesses of the Christian faith and the love of God to our children?
Respect for the Power of God's Grace
When you get down to it, I’m hard pressed to see the difference between this situation and, say the situation of a couple using artificial contraception bringing their children to be baptized. Face it, the use of artificial contraception is defined, consistently and vociferously by the Holy Father as a serious sin.
Should the children of contracepting couples be allowed to be baptized? After all, they’re consciously turning from what many see as an important Church teaching.
You might argue that the issue of contraception is different than Dads with Quads because it’s less public. You don’t know what people are doing in their bedrooms.
You might argue that contraception isn’t part of a social movement like the gay rights movement which is contributing to the breakdown of public morality.
It’s not? Really?
The situation, it seems, is not the same, as if the men came requesting baptism for themselves. That’s different, with a different set of expectations. But as long as we’re in the business of baptizing babies which is a good business, by the way, we have to recognize balance, ever so carefully, our concern for children’s souls, our determination to keep the practice of our faith authentic and true to the Gospel, and ultimately, a healthy respect for the sovereignty of God and the power of his grace.
No matter who our parents are.
Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributor to the Living Faith quarterly devotional. This article first appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
Amy has written several excellent books, which are available now through our online store.