There is, I think it's fair to say, a kind of discrimination traditionally practiced in the Catholic Church with respect to baptism which brings with it a few interesting issues. The fact is that if you are coming into Catholicism as an adult, from a Muslim or atheist family say, then you can receive baptism into the Catholic Church only after a period of study of the principles of the Catholic religion, its not an automatic process. The same is true of people converted into Catholicism by missionaries in Africa or wherever, they normally have to study for quite a while before they are allowed to receive baptism. This study could go on for years during which the students are called Catechumens and there is a whole detailed Canon Law structure about the teaching of Catechumens.
Anyway so far so good but the obvious discrimination is that in traditional Catholic countries like Ireland you get pretty automatic infant baptism, meaning almost anybody that requests it for their child and pays a small fee can get him/her baptised. Hence it seems there is a double standard here, an automatic thing given to a baby who can hardly understand what's happening as opposed to this long process that these other people have to go through?
Well in traditional theology this is explained by the fact that in those Catholic countries parents, God parents, and to a degree the educational system will be expected to replace that education that in the other instances will be necessary before the 'catechumen' is baptised. So in otherwords once the Church is satisfied that the child will soon get that education from their parents and God parents, particularly, then it's ok to go ahead with the baptism and to cement the deal the God parents will take an oath promising to do this. You can see that this agreement to bring up the child that way is central to baptism in this statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
This in fact is pretty much the traditional teaching of all the Christian faiths that practice infant baptism, for example here is a comment on it from the Presbyterian faith:"For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents' help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized - child or adult on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function (officium). The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism."
( Catechism of the Catholic Church - IntraText )
So hence problem solved? We can clearly what is happening here in that the faith of the parents (and to a degree God parents and overall educational environment in traditional Catholic countries) is making up for the infant who cannot understand these things and this is how there is no real discrimination because in the first category of baptisms it is assumed that the parental and family structure is not as condusive to learning about the Catholic faith."Once we recognize that faith is a condition for baptism, and that baptism itself is not a demonstration of faith by the person baptized, the question can be asked, Whose faith is required? As we look now at the relevant biblical teaching, we will see that the faith of parents fully suffices for the baptism of their children."
( The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism )
Which ends our tuppeny lesson on traditional Catholic faith! But it also of course opens up a few questions about modern times. Obviously there are parents out there nowadays for whom you wouldn't be as confident about whether they are really planning to bring up the child a Catholic, and if not is a conscientious priest not obliged to have second thoughts in giving the baptism because otherwise our theological structure here kind of breaks down? What about if a child is presented for baptism and the parents are 'living in sin' as it were and, after some questioning, it appears they have no intention of 'regularising' the situation? What should an honest priest do who is trying to uphold what for him would be the law of God here? So anyway would readers agree that at least some times you can see the point of view of a priest refusing the baptism, if he were not satisfied as regards the sincerity of the parents in undertaking to bring up the child in the Catholic faith?
I think a lot of people could think of some examples where this could legitimately happen but if so it seems they would be out of sync with our new Pope from the Argentine:
This is very strong language and doesn't seem to allow for any circumstances in which a priest could legitimately deny that baptism? I say that because I think everybody would agree that a blanket ban on the baptism of children of unwed mothers would be completely wrong, because every case is different and no doubt there are many mothers who have every intention of bringing the child up in the faith, but 'hypocrites' flung at any priest who would do this?"In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” Bergoglio told his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation."
( I’m Seriously Loving This Guy )
That was in 2012 and in an interview in 2009 he clarifies his views in that he seems to regard the marital status of the parents as completely irrelevant:
Is that not in breach of the above described traditional Catholic theology, because clearly the marital status of the parents could be a clue as to their beliefs and faith?"The child has no responsibility for the marital state of its parents."
( The Future Pope Francis: Additional Interviews and Writings )
Anyway no doubt there is a satisfactory explanation here, and no doubt also most people would regard it as a bit previous criticising the Pope's theology and that only a few days into the job! But nonetheless I think there might be an overall worthwhile point to make here. The point is that yes its great being a populist and being nice to everybody and man of the people etc but if the answer to all the questions is to be compassionate and open to all etc then is this not an example of where you could end up breaching the intellectual honesty and vigour of the Church's teaching? And once you have broken that is it going to be a lot harder to persuade people to become or stay Catholics?
You see this new almost humanistic populist approach, which I think the new Pope is already demonstrating, was what happened after Vat II, the 'new spring time' for the Church, the 'new renewal', and frankly it has been a spectacular failure, in most western countries at any rate. The reason why is because they mistake what a religion really is.
In my opinion a good analogy to religion is any other academic field or discipline, say maths or whatever. So there you throw up your equations on the board and teach the truth that say 2+2=4 or what have you, and this is what the Church is trying to do, put across truths appealing to, in the main, your God given reason and intellect. Now the 'reformer' comes along and he says that that teaching is not inclusive enough, its not 'reaching out' to those outside or alienated from the Maths class and the solution is that you should finesse that truth. So hence its not longer 2+2=4 its a matter of personal opinion, or depends on the circumstances of the age etc etc, you can now welcome those into the Church who believe that 2+2=5 or whatever.
Maybe you can see, when you think about it like that, that maybe a proportion of people could feel a bit better in Maths class but in short order you will alienate all the others who thought they knew what was going on but now have no idea what underlying intellectual honesty is underpinning all this. The truth is the truth and it must naturally be both eternal and lasting in all circumstances? 2+2=4 was as true in the 1950s as in 300 BC because that is the nature of truth? You start messing with that intellectual rigor and I don't see how you get more adherents at all in the long run.
Thats what I am worried about with respect to the current Pope but I guess we will just have to wait and see...