Why baptism is still the norm
Baptism is a hot topic in one south Dublin WhatsApp group, comprised of about 300 mothers. One member of the group estimates that around 10 per cent of parents are dead- set against christening their child, 10 per cent are freely choosing it and 80 per cent see good and bad points: “my mother would have a fit if I didn’t do it”, “we just want to mark the occasion”, “it’s handy for getting into schools”.
In 2017, a survey carried out by the now- defunct education equality group Equate found that at least one in five baptised their child solely to ensure they got a place in a local school. The baptism barrier, where schools can prioritise Catholic- baptised children in their admissions policy, remains in place, although pressure is growing on Minister for Education Richard Bruton to remove it.
One set of parents, who asked not to be named, say they don’t identify with the Catholic church at all. Nonetheless, they reluctantly had a secret baptism for their first child because they were concerned about school places. Recently, they had their second child; whether or not to baptise her is a source of ongoing tension. “We’re both uncomfortable with it, and being dishonest doesn’t sit easily with me.” says the mother. “Do we take a stand, or have our children educated? I am willing to set aside my principles around honesty because the education of my children is the most important thing. We shouldn’t have to though: it doesn’t serve our children or the church.”
But it’s not as simple as school places. As humanist celebrant Siobhán Walls points out, the majority of the country’s schools are not oversubscribed. “A lot of christenings happen because of tradition: baptism is what has always been done, it’s easier not to disagree with the parents. And of course, there are lot of sincere Catholics to whom baptism is an important ritual and sacrament, and I have absolute respect for that.”
Rachel Coffey, who lives in Dublin, is one such parent. She and her husband have one son ( 22 months) and one daughter ( 3). “I’ve been to a humanist baby naming ceremony and to a humanist wedding. Both were gorgeous, and really nice and personal. I chose to raise my children and to baptise them because I believe in God and think it is the right start for them and I take them to Mass, or at least into the church. My sister and my sister- in- law had boys within a week of each other, so it was nice for us to have the christenings together. We had a great day out: everyone got together and celebrated. Godparents are someone who will care for the child, and spend time with them growing up. I believe it is nice to have a faith in something, and to have rituals too.”