Why bap­tism is still the norm

The Irish Times Magazine - - BAPTISM -

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.”

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