Secret baptisms against the parents’ wishes

| Father Michael Van Sloun | October 25, 2017 | 7 Comments

Unbaptized children. It is happening more and more these days.

So often the grandparents did their best to practice their Catholic faith and pass it on to their children, but to their great dismay, their own children have lost fervor for their faith. Their adult children go to Mass occasionally or not at all. They do not pray all that much at home. The teachings of Jesus and the Church are used to a lesser extent to guide their lives, marriage and family. And when these adult children have children, because their faith has slipped as a priority for them, they do not have their
children baptized.

Grandparents are keenly aware that baptism is necessary for salvation and have great angst over the fact that their grandchildren are not baptized. The ordinary ministers of baptism are the ordained clergy, bishops, priests and deacons, but in an emergency situation, anyone can baptize. Sometimes grandparents, fretting over the fact that their grandchild is not baptized, consider the situation to be an emergency, take the matter into their own hands, and secretly baptize a grandchild without the parents’ knowledge or without asking the parents’ permission.

Sink Baptism


Is a secret baptism against the parents’ wishes the right thing to do? No. In fact, the Church prohibits a secret baptism without the knowledge or approval of the parents, except if the child is in immediate danger of death.

So a grandparent, relative or a concerned individual wonders, “If the child is unbaptized, what should be done?” If the parents do not have a sincere desire to have their child baptized, the child should remain unbaptized.

Infant baptism presumes that the parents are practicing the faith, and if they are not doing so, and if there is not a well-founded hope that the child will be raised in the practice of the faith, and if the parents do not choose the faith for their child, essential conditions for infant baptism are missing. In that situation, baptism is to be delayed.

Then the hope is that when the child reaches the age of reason, usually as a teenager or an adult, the person will intentionally choose the Catholic faith for him or herself. At that point, the proper route to the reception of baptism is the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

In the meantime, what can grandparents or other concerned individuals do?

They can practice their own faith with fervor to give good example to the parents, inspire them and, hopefully, motivate them to act. They can pray for the parents and their unbaptized child. And, if the opportunity should ever present itself, they might gently and tactfully suggest or encourage the parents to both give more attention to their own practice of the faith and to have their children baptized, and to make these suggestions calmly and kindly — without being pushy, preachy or authoritarian — with great diplomacy and being extremely careful not to alienate. Baptism is the gateway to the sacraments and the Christian life, and it is a precious grace to those who receive it.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This is the seventh column in a series on baptism. Read more of his writing at




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Category: Faith Fundamentals

  • Paula Ruddy

    Isn’t the problem in the formulation: “baptism is necessary for salvation”? Grandparents could understand a clear teaching on that.

  • Dominic Deus

    Dominic Deus here. I think Fr.Van Sloun is correct but I wish he would have spent a little time explaining that the Church no longer teaches that the unbaptized are disqualified from the grace of, or communion with, God.

    The most beautiful and eloquent baptism ( I write thusly because, to this day, I do not know if it was a Christian rite) I ever witnessed was on an Alaskan homestead, where the mother and father signed their infant with pristine mountain waters, taken from the spring snow melt, and spoke these words:

    “Blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, you are child of ours and God, forever.”

    Are there any waters purer, cathedrals more splendid, or words more sanctifying? God, however conceived, was named; I cannot imagine the Holy Spirit being absent from the perfection of the Alaskan wilderness in those days and; I could almost see the face of Jesus smiling like a proud godfather.

    The fathers name was John.

    The mother’s name was Sophia.

    Question: Did any of you watch “Northern Exposure?”

    • Charles C.

      Dear Dominic,

      Was “Northern Exposure” a movie or a TV show? I’m not familiar with it.

      The Alaskan baptism? It’s hard to believe it was Christian. Acts and First Corinthians both describe, in several places, people being baptized in Jesus’ name. Leaving Him out of the ceremony seems to have no purpose except to separate the rite from Christianity.

      And as long as I’m in the Bible, “Child of God” doesn’t seem to be used there to refer to all humanity, at least not in the New Testament. “Child of God” is used more as a term referring to believers or those in the Church. It speaks also of “Children of Unbelief” and “Children of the Devil.”

      Are there any waters purer or cathedrals more splendid? There is a lot to be said for nature as God oversees it, and I suppose it depends a little on individual taste, but “words more sanctifying?” Sure, try the ones which the Church has used for centuries. It may be that we don’t have the same understanding of the word “sanctifying,” but if it means something like “made holy in God’s eyes,” I’ll stick with the Church’s methods.

      • Dominic Deus

        Dear Charles,

        “Northern Exposure” was a 70’s network television series that focused on several strong characters–a doctor, a woman bush pilot, an astronaut, a convict DJ, a general store proprietor, and a world class chef, Adam, and his wife, Eve, all living in the imaginary town of Cicely, Alaska. It was amazingly well done and when we would come down to the “South 48”, people would ask us, “Is it really like that up there?” and we would all say, “Yes.”

        It was great character study, infused with mysticism, romance, fever dreams and literary exposition two orders removed from reality. It was magic and high art, and there were times when it actually made you laugh and then cry in less than a minute.

        Anyway, I am a traditionalist who likes ritual and Baptism is one of my favorites, but I have to tell you, in an age when we were sending children to fight and die in Viet Nam, and the President of the United States had an “enemies list” of suspect American citizens, there was a lot of spiritual questing. Our own good priest, Archbishop Bernard Hebda was at Harvard then and I am sure he saw a great deal of it.

        It was there on the Last Frontier as well, and, if you were in a sod-roofed homestead cabin halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, in the valley at the foot of Denali mountain, you had to birth your babies on your own, name them according to your hopes and dreams, and wash them in the water of God’s Creation. If that’s not a sacrament, it should be 😉

        Charles, I owe you thoughtful replies to several posts but I am behind and remiss on many things and have to tend to them. I will reply, however. In the meantime, you can write whatever you wish, free of my blathering contradiction.

        Oh, yes, the baby; you inquired about the baby, John the Baptizer and Sophia the Wise’s daughter. She was named Peace Blossum.


        • Graeme Braithwaite

          Northern Exposure was a comedy-drama television series that ran on CBS from 1990 to 1995.
          The rite for a Catholic baptism must include the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
          Thank you Fr. Van Sloun for this article which will certainly help a woman in my theology class who wanted to secretly baptize her grandchildren.

          • Dominic Deus

            Domininc Deus here. Graeme–thank you SO much for your correction on the dates. Of, course you are absolutely, right and for the life of me, I cannot think of how I managed to transpose those dates the way I did. *I* was in Alaska in the 70’s of course, so wasn’t everyone?!?!?

            You are also correct on the Catholic rite, as I know it, and of course a major part of my post was that the wilderness rite was a moving baptism and I wasn’t sure it was even Christian but it was certainly infused with the beauty of God’s Creation and new life.

            I want to finish with this point however: Thank you, thank you, and thank you again. Every discussant needs correction now and them, especially a know-it-all like me.

            If you have a bit of time, can you tell use all where your theology class is being taught and what drew you to it?

          • Graeme Braithwaite

            Catholic Sacramental Worship at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. The Catechetical Institute drew me to it. As a CI graduate, they offered me the class for free.