by Father Andrew Jaspers. Chaplain for Sacred Heart Guardians and Shelter
In last August’s newsletter we explored the moral quandary of the eternal destination of embryos. Christianity teaches the necessity of baptism for salvation (Mk 16:15; Mt 28:18-19). At the same time, Scripture teaches that God wills that all be saved (1 Tim 2:4).
Tragically, conventional baptism for cryopreserved embryos is impossible. Baptism requires the application of water on the head of the person, while pronouncing the formula, i.e., “I baptize you in the name of the Father. . .” Not only is the embryo’s head not yet identifiable, but the application of water would bring about its death.
We at Sacred Heart Guardians and Shelter have counseled confused parents of embryonic children who wish to thaw their embryos for baptism. But the choice to thaw the embryos is the choice to terminate the lives of the embryos themselves. The only permissible option for cryopreserved embryos for those who are not seeking implantation is to keep them preserved indefinitely.
The desire for a child’s baptism is a good desire. And there is reason to believe that this desire may be satisfied without recourse to thawing the embryo(s). The Christian teachings of baptism by desire and parental intention substituting for the child’s intention suggest that embryos can be baptized in another way.
St. Augustine writes in City of God, book eight, “Baptism is invisibly administered which has been impeded, not by contempt for religion, but by unavoidable death.” St. Ambrose confirms this in “On the Death of Valentianus.” Though baptism of desire typically concerns an adult’s desire for his or her own baptism, we can see on other grounds how the parents’ desire for baptism of their child ordinarily suffices for the child’s intention.
St. John Paul II cites St. Augustine in Pastoralis Actio, “The fact that infants cannot yet profess personal faith does not prevent the Church from conferring this sacrament on them, since in reality it is in her own faith that she baptizes them.” This is an affirmation of the long-standing acknowledgement that infants are baptized based on the Church and parents’ intention that they belong to God and the Church.
Taken together, the teachings of baptism by desire and parents’ intention for baptism allow us to assure parents with cryopreserved children that their intention is likely sufficient for their little one’s baptism, and gives hope that God will receive them on their last day.