The Romanian Orthodox Church is facing growing pressure to change baptism rituals after a baby died following a baptism ceremony – which involves immersing infants three times in holy water.
The six-week-old suffered a cardiac arrest and was rushed to hospital, but he died a few hours later; the autopsy revealed liquid in his lungs.
A spokesperson for the hospital said: “A one-month-and-a-half baby was found in cardiac arrest in the church after the baptism service. The baby was respited by the SMURD unit that arrives on the spot.
“He was hospitalised in serious condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit, was intubated and mechanically ventilated.”
The father of the child told Monitorul de Suceava: “The boy was crying but the priest submerged him three times in water and he inhaled water, [I] removed him, wiped him, from the doctors I found out he inhaled 110ml of water… If you see a child with a gaping mouth and crying you wouldn’t immerse him completely in water, would you?”
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation against the priest in the city of Suceava.
An online petition calling for changes to the ritual had gathered more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday evening.
“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy,” said a message with the petition. “This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”
One person denounced the “brutality” of the ritual and another criticised the “stubbornness of those who think that it is the will of God” to maintain it.
Local media recounted several similar incidents in recent years.
Church spokesman Vasile Banescu suggested that priests could pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of baptism by full immersion.
But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.
More than 80% of Romanians are Orthodox and the Church is one of the most trusted institutions, according to recent opinion polls.
The Archdiocese of Suceava said in a statement: “There is no word or deed to wipe away the tears and now soothe the broken heard of parents and relatives, but we are with them at this particularly difficult time.”
Romanian Patriarchate, Vasile Banescu, said the church felt “deep compassion towards the family of the deceased child”.
Orthodox baptisms often involve the infant being completed submerged three times in quick succession. This is not the first time these ceremonies have caused controversy.
In 2019, footage emerged of a Russian Orthodox priest violently baptising an infant child after the youngster began screaming uncontrollably. The video shows the priest fending off the mother as she attempts to retrieve her child. The priest was subsequently banned from performing baptisms for a year.
(Picture Courtesy: AFP)