Romania’s Orthodox Church will continue to submerge infants in water during baptism ceremonies, rejecting calls to change the ritual after a six-week-old baby died after being baptized earlier this month.
However, the church did say that it would ask priests to be more careful in the future and would improve how trainee priests learn the baptism ritual, an apparent nod to public anger over the death of the newborn.
The baby boy went into cardiac arrest and later died in the northern Romanian city of Suceava after the ceremony which involves plunging infants in water three times.
A medical report has found the child had 100 milliliters of liquid in its lungs, but the results of the autopsy have not yet been published.
Prosecutors are investigating the case and have named the priest a suspect of involuntary manslaughter.
The issue has divided cleric of the influential Orthodox Church to which more than 85% of Romanians belong, while some church believers who have called for reforms. They want the ritual to consist of water being sprinkled on the infant’s head along the lines of Catholic and Protestant christenings.
More than 60,000 Romanians petitioned the church and the petition was submitted to the church before the Holy Synod met.
However, as expected, the church said late Thursday it wouldn’t change the ancient ritual.
“Romania’s Orthodox Church has a statutory obligation to maintain dogmatic, sacramental and disciplinary communion and unity with the universal Orthodox Church,” the Holy Synod, the decision-making body, said in a statement.
It did, however, urge priests to be more responsible.The Synod also said priests have an obligation to meet with parents before the baptism and discuss their children’s health conditions while theology schools will give “heightened attention” when teaching the immersion practice.
Romania’s ombudsman took the unusual step of meeting church representatives this month and made recommendations including extra practical baptism lessons for theological students and refresher courses for working priests.
They also suggested that priests discuss the infant’s physical health with the parents or guardians of the child, including consulting with medics about how to perform a baptism, adapted to each case.