The leadership of the Romanian Orthodox Church has decided not to change its ancient practice of full-immersion baptism of babies despite public outrage that followed the recent death of an infant during christening.
The denomination’s decision-making body, Holy Synod, has announced that the baptism ritual will remain and that it will only urge priests to be more careful when they perform the ritual, according to Radio Free Europe.
“We do not demand the [end] of the practice of baptism but its modification so [babies] are prevented from unnecessary and even absurd risks!” reads an online petition that had gathered over 65,500 names as of Saturday.
The petition, arguing that the tradition involves brutality and should be abolished, was launched by a teacher, Vladimir Dumitru, in response to the death of a 6-week-old baby on Feb. 1 after suffering cardiac arrest while being baptized in a church in the northern town of Suceava.
The priest, identified as Alexandru Mazarache, fully immersed the baby in the water three times in the baptismal font, DW reported earlier. The child first cried, then became still, then the infant’s lips turned blue. The baby was taken to a hospital, where he died a few hours later.
The priest is a suspect in the investigation on charges of involuntary manslaughter. His lawyer, Marcel Balatchi, was quoted as saying that the priest had “performed the ritual according to church canons.”
Romania’s ombudsman has suggested some health and safety measures to the church, including increasing the age of the child for baptism.
A spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Vasile Banescu, earlier suggested the churches could sprinkle holy water over babies instead of immersing them.
“It is, without a doubt, a tragic case, a case that will have to be investigated. Let's not imagine that a child can be put in water without covering his nose, mouth and ears,” Banescu told Antena 3. “There is a technique that an experienced priest always uses. This is how a baptism is celebrated with the utmost care.”
Teodosie Petrescu, the archbishop of Tomis in the country’s southeast, had rejected calls for babies to be sprinkled with water. He was quoted as saying earlier that the tradition of immersing a child three times during baptism has carried on for 2 millennia and will continue.
“There’s no way for the ritual to change. These canons of faith will be available for another 1,000 years. That is why we will not change. We’re not intimidated,” Petrescu said.
The archbishop added that babies should be immersed in cold water, which not only “sharpens” their spirituality, but is also suitable for their health.
Over 80% of Romanians are Orthodox Christians.