Q. A Catholic friend was married out of the church a few years ago. Her spouse is not Catholic. They are expecting a child soon, and she would like the child to be baptized Catholic. Is that possible? Would their marriage need to be blessed in the church for that to happen? Could I be a sponsor at the baptism if it happens? (Nebraska)
A. It is not impossible for a baby to be baptized Catholic in this situation. It is done frequently.
As I have explained often in the past, however, being baptized Catholic means more than simply that a priest performs the ceremony. It is true that children should be baptized "shortly after birth" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1250; see canon law, No. 867).
This practice assumes, however, that parents are prepared to bring their children up as faithful, active Catholic men and women. In fact, a priest may not lawfully baptize a child unless he has a solidly founded hope that the baby will be raised properly as a member of the Catholic religion (Canon 868).
The Rite of Baptism emphasizes the point. At least twice during the ceremony, Catholic parents proclaim that they accept and believe the faith in which the child is being baptized, and that they will give the example and teaching for their child to be raised in the faith. Through the parents and godparents, the entire Catholic Christian community obliges itself to assist in that responsibility.
Are the parents in your case able and willing to make such a promise? It is possible they can if they themselves, or at least the Catholic parent, are committed to living as full a Catholic life as their circumstances permit.
One point in their favor is that the mother has roots in the Catholic faith and apparently hopes her child will share that faith. Even if her husband agrees to support her in that desire, it doesn’t remove all the problems, but it does give them a bit of a head start in a difficult task.
If they have not done so already, the parents should talk with a priest they can relate to as soon as possible, preferably one of the several in the area where they live, explain the situation, and ask his help. Normally, if the baptism takes place, you should be able to assume that all requirements are present for you to serve as sponsor.
In fact, since they consider you a friend, you may be able to bring a significant amount of support to them in their concern for the spiritual good of their child.
While the baptism of the child does not in the end depend on their having the marriage validated in the church, they must try to do all they can to make that happen. For one thing, the mother’s example in receiving the sacraments and otherwise modeling a Catholic life will be enormously important in future years, both for herself and her children.
How her return to the sacraments might be possible will depend on several circumstances you don’t mention in your question. They need to talk with the priest about that. Again, please encourage them to do that quickly.
A longtime columnist with Catholic News Service, Father Dietzen died March 27, 2011.