Civil Partnerships

A web correspondent raised this important issue:

“Is anyone on the Committee aware of any national or diocesan pastoral guidelines concerning a request for baptism of a child born to or adopted by parents who are in a civil partnership or other committed homosexual relationship?”

We responded as follows:

“The immediate response to your question is in the extract from the Bishops’ Pastoral statement (paras 24 and 25) [set out at the end of this article]. This seems clear enough but our Committee members do have reservations.

“A legal mistake comes in the first sentence, where it says baptism cannot be refused. Canon B 22.4 actually says:

"No minister shall refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents, delay to baptise any infant within his cure that is brought to the church to be baptised, provided that due notice has been given and the provision relating to godparents in these Canons are observed."

When reading a legal document you have to read the complete sentence. It doesn't say "No minister shall refuse." It says the minister can delay for some purposes and s/he can refuse on some grounds, and it sets out what the purposes and grounds are. In fact baptism can be refused on two grounds: if adequate notice has not been given, or if the provisions in the Canons relating to godparents have not been observed.

The provisions relating to who is qualified to be a godparent are quite exacting. Canon B 23.1 says there must be a minimum number of two of the same sex and one of the other sex. Canon B 23.2 states that they must be people who will faithfully fulfil their responsibilities both by:

* their care for the children committed to their charge, and

* the example of their own godly living.

In addition to this Canon B 23.4 insists that they be baptised and confirmed, although the minister has the power to dispense with the requirement of confirmation (though this is meant to be used of people from other Trinitarian churches not having that rite).

Of course the Canons are favourable towards infant baptism overall, and in fact many churches seek to provide Christian parents with close friends within the congregation who can fulfil these responsibilities. Nevertheless it is not right to say that baptism cannot be refused where the parents do not follow the requirements of the canon by providing godparents who are both practising Christians (setting an example) and not just casual acquaintances (exercising care of the children). Notice also that the canon does not give the minister the right to waive this requirement of godparents.

There is also a less-important misquotation of the Canon in Paragraph 25 above: delay is for the purpose of "preparing or instructing" and not just for "instruction". This point is discussed by Colin Buchanan in his book "Infant Baptism in the Church of England" (Grove Books 1992), where he points out that there's a question of what counts as "preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents"? If it just means the vicar has to have told them something, then it would just use the word "instructed". It also means that they have to receive the preparation. In the book Colin says:

"As the rites of infant baptism require the child to be brought up within the worshipping life of the church ... it is wholly consistent with the Canons to expect the parents ... to be regular worshippers, and preparation should be directed towards that end, and may properly be viewed as incomplete until the parents come to faith and take their place in the life of the church." (page 5). (Since then the baptism service has changed, but it still makes this requirement, and the law has not changed.)

Colin had the book checked by "an eminent ecclesiastical lawyer", who said that the paragraph above was a valid understanding of what the Canon meant.”

Another Committee member comments (perhaps slightly tongue in cheek!)

“ One might argue that there is no issue, i.e. according to ancient precept, we are bound to seek out the unbaptised, and there should be no more discrimination against babes and children in homosexual homes than there is against those born out of wedlock.

Alternatively one argues that the whole thing of infant baptism is so messy as regards the people who have a stake in children's lives and certain to become even more messy that it can no longer be justified and we should revert to the baptism of catechumens, i.e. those who have a declared desire to be baptised and who have been prepared for it appropriately.”

Extract from the Bishops' Pastoral Statement

24…… While the House of Bishops recognises many in the Church have reservations about these developments, we believe an unconditional welcome should be given to children in our churches, regardless of the structure of the family in which they are being brought up.

25.In relation to infant baptism, Canon B 22.4 makes it clear that, while baptism can be delayed for the purposes of instruction (including on marriage and the family), it cannot be refused. The responsibility for taking vows on behalf of the infant rests with the parents and godparents. Provided there is a willingness, following a period of instruction to give those vows, priests cannot refuse to baptise simply because those caring for the infant are not, in their view, living in accordance with the Church’s teaching