The Diocese of Madison, Wis. explained its response to same-sex couples who present children for baptism, welcoming sincere baptism requests but also warning of “speculative” or “scurrilous” news reports on the subject.
In a June 27 statement, the diocese reproduced vicar general Monsignor James Bartylla's May 10 confidential e-mail to priests, which noted that each request for baptism for a child being raised by a same-sex couple “must be evaluated individually.”
Priests who receive such requests should contact him to consult and coordinate, Msgr. Bartylla said.
“As you know, there a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording,” the monsignor added.
That confidential e-mail drew the attention of the Wisconsin State Journal and attracted other national news, with the Wisconsin paper describing it as a “change in process.”
Religion News Service reporter David Gibson wrote about the Madison diocese's approach June 26, depicting it as a possible new cultural “battleground” and claiming that there is a “trend to curb baptisms.” He cited critics of Madison Bishop Robert Morlino who suspected the policy would curb baptisms he considers “problematic.”
In response to media coverage, the Madison diocese reproduced two statements its communications director Brent King sent to the Wisconsin newspaper.
In his June 2 statement, King noted “a few well-circulated and sometimes sensationalized news stories” regarding these baptisms. King said that Msgr. Bartylla’s office would assist pastors “on a case-by-case basis” given Catholics' desire “that all be offered the graces of baptism” and given “other just considerations.”
In his June 12 statement, King said that the number of babies baptized would not change under the diocese’s approach “if a parent is sincere in presenting a child for baptism.”
“We believe that baptism is the entrance into a new life in Christ and His Church, open to all,” King said. He added that in all cases of baptism of children, a parent must consent to the baptism and there must be “reasonable hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic faith.” Otherwise the baptism should be “deferred.”
“Any parent who desires baptism for their child, and truly intends to raise the child in the faith and all that means, should approach the Church, requesting the sacrament,” the spokesman said. “We want everyone to receive this most important sacrament, and we are dealing with this sensitive matter prudently, for the child’s sake and the integrity of this most sacred sacrament.”
The Madison diocese also cited the working document for the October Synod of Bishops' extraordinary general assembly that will address the challenges facing the family.
The document, issued June 26, notes that bishops' responses are “clearly opposed” to the adoption of children by same-sex couples because of the risk to the child's “integral good” and because of the child's right to both a mother and a father.
The document also emphasizes that when a person in a same-sex relationship requests baptism for a child, almost all the bishops’ responses “emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”
Where there is reasonable doubt that the child can receive proper Christian instruction from those who request baptism, pastors should give careful oversight to baptismal preparation for the child, give particular attention to the choice of godparents and seek possible assistance from the couple’s friends and family.
This effort to secure proper support for a child’s baptism is “the same manner as for any couple seeking the baptism of their children,” the working document says.
News media coverage of the Diocese of Madison's approach to children raised by same-sex couples has also provided an opportunity for false front groups to criticize the Catholic Church.
The Religion News Service report from David Gibson interviewed Francis DeBernardo, the head of New Ways Ministries, which rejects Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. That organization's purported Catholic identity has been rejected by the U.S. bishops in 2010 and 2011.