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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Illicit Baptism and Confession

by Catherine Frakas 02 Jul 2001

Illicit Baptism and Confession QUESTION from Joe on October 6, 2002 I have doubts and I need your assistance.
A few days ago, I commited a very grave sin against the hierarchical constitution of the Church.
I have always been a catholic. One of my best friends, Thomas, is, or was, an unbaptized person.
Thomas's paternal and maternal grandparents were catholics too, so that he knows a little about our faith. His parents are both baptized, and I believe that they were also married in the Church, but the fact is that they are atheists now. They have not raised Thomas in the catholic faith, and Thomas was never baptized. The same happened to his brother, who is an atheist too. According to him, his surviving paternal grandmother was very saddened by that state of affairs.
As friends, we talk about several things. Sometimes, religion becomes the subject of our conversation. Years ago, I realised that he is very curious about the Church, its structure, and mostly, about the catholic Faith. But whenever I would say a word to encourage him to join the Church, he would back off, talking about his doubts. He has problems also because he has been exposed to intense levels of religious relativism. Once, however, he went to a parish Church, to know what he had to do to receive baptism. He was told about RCIA classes and cathecumenate. Once again, he backed off. He told me of his visit to the parish and said that he would not go for the cathecumenate because he was too old for a classroom, and that he wouldn't adapt to RCIA classes. We kept talking about the Church on other occasions.
Yesterday, we went to a pub, and later, we went to his house, to watch a DVD movie. We were both drunk, siting in the coutch, and there was a glass of water on the table, in front of the TV set. I was drunk, and perhaps because of that I decided to baptize my friend.
I had knowledge of the illicit character of my action in canon law, and I knew that I was only supposed to administer baptism in cases of danger of death, which was not the case. But, perhaps due to the influence of alcohol, I went on with it. I had a clear intention of baptizing him, of doing what the Church does when She baptizes. And I used the trinitarian formula.
A few hours later, I realized that what I had done was wrong! I felt sorry, it was a feeling similar to grief. I was shocked with myself. I knew that I had violated the Church's law, and corrupted the hierarchical constitution of the Body of Christ. It was repentence.
Today, as soon as I had eaten my breakfast, I went to my parish Church to confess my sin.
Mass was about to start, and when it finished, I talked to the parish priest, whom I know very well, but he could not hear my confession since he was in a rush to go to the funeral of a fellow priest. But there is a new priest in the parish, and I was introduced to him by the parish priest so that this new priest, recently ordained, would hear my confession. He said - Hey, Father George, your first penitent. And I went with him.
Well, Father George lectured me about the gravity of my sin, tried to encourage my work of evangelization, but said that I needed to respect the limitations of the royal priesthood.
But I have a problem with one thing he said. Father George stated that the Baptism which I had performed was clearly invalid. He said that it was invalid because I was drunk, and also because it would only be valid if Thomas were in danger of death. He said that I needed to inform Thomas that there was no Sacrament, only a sinful simulation of Baptism.
I was, and I still am certain that the Baptism which I sinfully and wrongly performed was valid indeed. Don't protestant's baptize validly? I had the intention, used clean water and the correct formula. It seems that it was valid, in spite of its illicit character. It was, so I understand from what I had learned in the past, not a simulation of the Sacrament, but the true Sacrament, illicitly performed. Now I have a problem, Father George instructed me to tell Thomas that the Sacrament didn't take place. But it seems that Father George is wrong about that. My sin continues to be as big and as ugly as before, and I still repent it, but I am sure that the Baptism was not invalid.
Before the absolution, I said: But Father, are you sure that it was invalid? I used the trinitarian formula and I had the intention of doing what the Church does. And he reaffirmed that the baptism was invalid. He said that my intention and the use of the formula had no effect, because I only have the power of Baptizing in cases of danger of death, and since I laked the power, the action was invalid.
Well, I didn't tried to reply to that, because I was ashamed of my sin, and also because of some shyness I always have when confessing. I would not start to discuss or explain sacramental theology to a priest in the middle of my confession. I was embarrased with the situation.
Then, he asked me to say the act of contrition, and gave me the Sacramental Absolution. I did my penance, praying what he instructed me to pray and also the act of contrition, which had not been recited during the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
My questions are:
a) What is your opinion about the validity of the Baptism?
b) If the Baptism is valid, do I need to warn Thomas that the baptism is invalid, as Father George told me to do?
c) If Father George was wrong about the nullity of the Baptism, was my reception of the Sacrament of Penance valid?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on October 9, 2002 Dear Joe:
I would go to your regular priest and ask him about this. I would ask to be dispensed of the penance that required me to tell your friend that he was invalidly baptized, because that is untrue. The young priest is wrong when he says that laity can only validly baptize in cases of danger of death.
While the Church frowns upon baptism in irregular ways, the baptism is valid if right intention, form, and substance was used. That is the test of validity: intention, form, and substance.
Substance: must be real water, not something else like flowers or whatnot.
Form: the Trinitarian Formula as you pour the water over the person.
Intention: to do what the Church intends.
Even though illicit, the baptism is valid if these three conditions exist. Many a grandparent has illicitly baptized their grandchildren because the parents were not living a Christian life. It is illicit, but it is valid.
Thus this young priest is wrong on that count.
Now as to your drunkenness, I am not sure of the issue. If you were clear of mind to do ACTUALLY what the Church intends, and not do this as a joke, or for the fun of it, or be irreverent in a drunken fit, then I think it would be valid.
Again, I would discuss this with the older priest.
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