Pope Francis changes Canon Law on Baptism of Infants

Here is the change to Canon Law:

§ 3. Infants of non-Catholic Christians are licitly baptized if their parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place request it and if it is physically or morally impossible for them to approach their own minister.

Over at In the Light of the Law blog, Dr. Ed Peters objects to the decision of Pope Francis to change the law in this respect. He says that requiring the child to be raised Catholic is a “settled matter among canonists”. Okay. But Francis is the Supreme Pontiff. He is able to change any rule within Canon Law. The teachings of Divine Revelation are infallible and irreformable. But Canon Law can be changed or dispensed (except for those Canons which are nothing other than a direct expression of teachings from Divine Revelation).

Is it a teaching that Baptism should only be given to infants, whose parents agree to raise the child as a Catholic? No. The universal salvific will of God requires us to give baptism as widely as we reasonably can, so as to save as many souls as possible. We prefer that a child, baptized by a Catholic priest or deacon, be raised as a Catholic. The one true Church is the Roman Catholic Church, and so all valid baptism is the Sacrament of entrance into that same Church. But out of mercy to the infant, we should baptize them, even if the parents are non-Catholic Christians.

Peters cites some past decisions by the Church to restrict baptism to infants when we can reasonably hope they will be raised Catholic. He cites past versions of Canon law, and a couple of older theological texts. Fine. But he does not establish that said restriction on the Sacrament of Baptism is an infallible doctrine. And the Pope has the authority to freely change the non-doctrinal portions of Canon Law.

Peters suggests that this new provision of the law “steps back from a well-established canonical understanding about the Catholic effects of baptism at the hands of Catholic ministers.” But a “well-established canonical understanding” is not a doctrine. Even if it were, there is the development of doctrine to consider. The Church’s understanding of doctrine improves over time, never so that a past dogma would be changed or taken away. But even non-infallible doctrines can change. How much more so a mere canonical understanding of a law that is not part of the eternal moral law. It is a Church regulation, which is entirely changeable.

Speaking More Broadly

We have entered a new phase in the Catholic blogosphere. Setting aside those arrogance Catholics who openly oppose Pope Francis, the Catholic online culture has largely turned against Pope Francis. They now treat him like a political opponent. They find fault with everything he says and does, and all he says and does is given an uncharitable interpretation. They speak and act as if they have authority over doctrine and discipline, and as if the Supreme Pontiff does not.

The conservative Catholic subculture is usurping the authority of the Church over doctrine and discipline. And many Catholic authors, bloggers, and online commentators are part of the problem.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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