The Week (US)

A Christian ritual that tortures babies


Mihai Copaceanu

The accidental drowning of a 6-week-old baby during baptism is sparking a call for religious reform, said Mihai Copaceanu. Traditiona­lists in the Romanian Orthodox clergy insist that baptism requires that the naked child be fully immersed in water three times. At one such christenin­g recently, in the city of Suceava, the baby was unresponsi­ve, his lips blue, when he was lifted the third time. He died in the hospital the next day, the parents’ joy at welcoming their child into the faith turned to grief. But the only real surprise is that such tragedies don’t happen more often. Some priests approach the ceremony “like firefighte­rs, splashing water with incredible force.” They lack all empathy for an infant’s fragility and fear. Wouldn’t we be outraged if we saw a video of “a remote tribe throwing newborn babies into the water”? But this is happening in the middle of Europe! Tens of thousands of people have now signed a petition calling for the end of full immersion. We know baptisms can be performed gently: When Archbishop Calinic baptized the daughter of Prince Nicolae, for example, he simply dribbled water on her forehead three times. We must hope that more enlightene­d members of the church hierarchy win out over the hard-liners and ban this “barbarity” for good.

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