Ask a Franciscan

Baptizing Grandchildren Secretly

Q. At a recent meeting, the topic of unbaptized grandchildren came up. I have been told by many priests and deacons that I could not baptize my grandchildren because it can only be administered once. What happens when grandparents baptize their grandchildren, and no one is ever told? What if, many years later, that grandchild decides to become a baptized Catholic? Since the soul is already marked from the first Baptism, what happens?

A. I understand that one should not baptize a child if the person is not in a position to raise the child as a Catholic, which is my case. My grandchildren live far from me. You have made the right decision in this matter. The lack of Baptism does not jeopardize that child’s eternal salvation. Likewise, the fact that a child is baptized does not guarantee that child’s salvation.

Since many Christians regard their faith as the greatest gift (in addition to life) that they have received from God, it is perfectly understandable that Christian parents should baptize infants and, thereby, share with them this great gift. In the New Testament, we have two very explicit stories about a “whole household” being baptized with an adult convert: Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10) and Paul’s jailer in Philippi (Acts 16:16-34).

When Jesus tells the apostles not to prevent children from coming to him (Mt 19:13-15), the terminology he uses resembles that used by the early Church regarding Baptism. This story may have been intended as a support for baptizing children. Why, then, did I say that you made the right decision not to baptize your grandchildren? Baptism of an infant or a child indicates the parents’ intention to raise this child as a follower of Jesus. This should never be done against the parents’ wishes.

At the same time, you should not sell yourself short that the good example of your own lived faith is not having a positive influence on your grandchildren. You may be having far more influence than you realize. What if an unbaptized child falls sick and dies? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.

Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them” [Mk 10:14; see 1 Tm 2:4], allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism” (1261).

The same merciful God dealing with unbaptized infants who die can certainly sort out the situation of an infant who was secretly baptized and later baptized as a teen or an adult.


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