A U.S. archbishop has encouraged pastors to baptize the children of LGBTQ+ parents, including those in same-gender relationships.
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe penned his inclusive exhortation in America, where he comments that it is “of great concern” when people are refused the sacraments because Christian tradition is about a generous invitation. He writes:
“I understand that the church, as guardian and dispenser of the graces of the sacraments, must exercise prudence in their celebration and even, in certain serious and rare cases, refuse the sacraments to some until reconciliation and/or the lifting of impediments are removed.
“Nonetheless, the general disposition of the church is one of hospitality, openness and welcome, in the spirit of the new evangelization. Refusing to baptize children of same-sex couples is not in keeping with this outreach, and I find it quite troubling. To refuse baptism to these children solely on the basis of the fact that they have same-sex parents, while possibly done with good intentions, is not supported by church teaching or practice, in my view.”
The archbishop’s commentary is a response to instances where LGBTQ+ parents have had requests to have their children baptized denied. He questions why there is rejection in these instances while in so many other situations where a family structure fails to meet the church’s ideal, baptism is allowed. Wester opines:
“I suspect that same-sex couples’ children are refused baptism because a judgment has been made that they cannot raise their child in the Catholic faith as L.G.B.T.Q. parents. This is not true. It is true that same-sex couples cannot live up to the understanding of marriage intended by God and taught by the church in every respect, but we must admit that no couple can ever live up to this understanding in every respect.”
Wester’s argument in defense of baptizing LGBTQ+ people’s children is rooted in Scripture, magisterial teaching, and his own pastoral experience. A parent or couple requesting to have their child baptized is “a moment of grace,” and should lead to pastoral ministers accompanying the family. He adds, “this is true for all parents requesting to have their child baptized, including same-sex couples.”
The archbishop is clear that church teaching restricts marriage to opposite sex couples, but explains:
“It is important to keep in mind that the question at hand is the baptism of the child and not the ability of the parents to live up to all of the church’s teaching on marriage. Just the same, there are substantial, foundational and critical elements in the same-sex couples’ relationship that do offer strong assurances that the child will be raised in the faith.
“I want to underscore here the critical importance of love. In the baptismal rite, the priest or deacon tells the parents that they are ‘the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do, in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Without a doubt, same-sex couples are quite capable of teaching their children about the faith, by living lives that respect others, by remaining faithful to each other and by loving one another. . .
“[S]ame-sex couples give witness to many other aspects of Catholic life that form a coherent catechesis for children: commitment, fidelity, self-giving, honesty, humility, kindness, spiritual depth, church attendance, respect and so much more. These considerations form the basis for the specific Catholic teaching that same sex parents give to their children.”
Towards the end of the essay, Wester speaks not only as an archbishop, but as a pastor. In his experience, parents in same-gender relationships are “showing good faith” in seeking the baptism of their child, and in doing so demonstrate “they are serious about their faith and that they wish to raise their children in that faith.”
Pastoral ministers should journey with the parents in exploring their faith, and not give “undue attention” to their parents’ sexual orientation or relationship status. Further, baptism entrusts someone to the community’s care, not just the parents. The church is likewise responsible for helping a child grow in their faith.
With his commentary, Archbishop Wester agains leads the U.S. church in a more LGBTQ-inclusive direction, as when he joined Lexington’s Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., in a supportive letter to transgender people. Baptizing children of LGBTQ+ parents should not be controversial, but sadly in too many parishes it still is. The archbishop’s forceful call to keep access to this most essential sacrament open will hopefully bolster pastoral ministers already providing such a welcome and cause others who may be more exclusionary to rethink their approach.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, August 4, 2022