Baptism, Funerals, the Unborn, and Bad Gotcha Arguments

As the rhetoric heats up surrounding Roe and pro-choice people feel understandably threatened by the MAGA cruels who cannot wait to start inflicting all kinds of insane punishments on lots and lots of people rather than lift a finger to help women in crisis, some of the argument from that side of aisle are just… bad. To wit:

This is one of those “gotchas” that just makes everybody dumber and help nothing. The goal should be to try to protect women, families, doctors, and religious minorities from the vengeful and counter-productive stupidity of the MAGA cult, not to attempt the absolutely futile task of telling Catholics what they do and do not “really” believe.

In the case of this meme, it is a complete garbled hash of an argument. Sacraments are for the living, so no dead person gets a baptism, whatever their age. It has absolutely nothing to do with breathing.

Indeed, if, for instance, a miscarried child still has some sign of life, it can be (and in many cases, is) baptized by any person (it need not be a priest or even a believer, so long as form and intention to do what the Church does is there). I know of mothers who have baptized their miscarried babies. As to the complaint that the Church does not baptize the unborn, come on. How does Occupy Democrats propose that be done? By injection of holy water?

As to funerals, “As a general principle, the Church encourages funeral rites for unbaptized infants and stillborn babies.” 

All this is absolutely silly for trying to land the Devastating Gotcha Blow they are aiming at, which is to claim that the Church doesn’t *really* believe in the sanctity of human life from conception. No. It absolutely does. What it does not believe, as a matter of practicality, is that unborn babies can be baptized and, as a matter of theology, that the dead can be baptized. But the fact that funeral rites are, indeed, conducted for children who die in utero attests to the fact the Church does indeed believe in the sanctity of human life from conception. One does not hold a funeral for toenail or hair clippings or similar “dead tissue”. One holds a funeral for a person.

Just as it is stupid for prolife people to tell pro-choice people that they “really believe” in committing cold-blooded murder when they believe in no such thing, so it is stupid for pro-choice people to tell prolife people that they “don’t really believe” in the sanctity of life from conception. Instead of engaging in mind-reading and in telling other people what they “really” think it would be far better for everybody to take one another at their word about what they actually think and go from there.


18 Responses

  1. But Mark, you still cannot get a funeral mass. I believe that this is because the Jewish faith taught that life begins at first breathe, and this is a vestige of when the Church was still in agreement with that.

  2. I agree that this attempt at a “gotcha” is ill informed at best. For what its worth, I recently made a comment here about the way we conduct funerals, but I was talking about society in general, not the Catholic Church specifically.

    Now, Mark has pointed out multiple instances of actual hypocrisy and inconsistency coming from the new evolved breed of conservative MAGA-Catholics, however, I know of one case that implicates the institutional Church itself:

    Lawyers for Catholic hospital argue that a fetus is not a person

    Sure, they later tried to do a PR cleanup, saying that they shouldn’t have done that, but that’s easy to say after the fact, when they’ve already benefitted financially from employing such arguments. Unlike some thoughtless, off the cuff remark, or some random layperson who doesn’t know any better, this legal strategy was something that was proposed, deliberated and ultimately approved by people in positions of power and authority within the Church.

    It goes to show that while the Church may be content to engage in culture wars they believe are low stakes or even beneficial to them and their brand, they’re not as committed when their bottom line is on the line. And sure, you could say that there is something that is simply human about that tendency of self-preservation, especially when it comes to material goods, but this late in the game, they really should know better.

    Of course, that is assuming they actually care, and this whole thing isn’t just a game to them. It is hard to tell sometimes.

    1. This is another example of why lawyers can be useful for the Church, the Church should never put them in control or let legal matter be the primary concern. Hushing up charges of sex abuse with non-disclosure agreements made legal sense. It never made moral sense when the guilty parties were just shuffled off to a new parish.

    2. I think it fairly obvious that the reason for the PR cleanup is that some lawyer was way the hell out of line and somebody from the Church said, “What the hell, man?” That only reinforces the fact that the Church really does believe what she believes in my book. A lawyer hired by the Church need not and often does not know the Church’s doctrine. The result can sometimes be remarkably stupid, as here.

      1. @Mark Shea:

        You would have to be living under a rock to not have an inkling regarding the Church’s position on abortion, let alone a lawyer working for a Catholic institution. I also find it hard to believe that some rogue lawyers decided to employ any legal strategy, let alone this one, without running it by their clients first, especially after two years of litigation.

        I don’t think beliefs are simple black and white propositions, that’s why things like hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance are possible. So in light of that, I do think that someone knowingly and deliberately made the call, and decided that protecting Catholic hospitals from liability was worth enduring whatever media blowback that could ensue.

        As the saying goes, “Es mejor pedir perdón que pedir permiso”, which translates to, “Its better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission”.

    3. “I know of one case that implicates the institutional Church itself:

      Lawyers for Catholic hospital argue that a fetus is not a person”

      “Catholic” hospitals are not the institutional church.

      The affiliate with the Church, but they are their own entities. Many were historically run by religious orders, and some still have formal links to those orders, but when you start to look at how most of them operate, the decision making is almost entirely by secular managers.

      In any case, the example you cite is a more grave reflection of our own experience – the ob/gyn who delivered one of our kids at a Catholic hospital had allowed my wife only a single nap after delivery, if I remember right, before she was trying to push contraception.

      The key point to remember is the fact that these organizations sometimes defy Catholic teaching does NOT mean such actions in any way represent living out the Catholic faith.

      The example you brought up is actually a bit puzzling to me. It says the wrongful death charge was dismissed related to the deceased mother, too, whom the law plainly agreed was a person. It appears there wasn’t even a strategic reason to so to use such a blatantly contradictory argument.

      1. Granted, the hospital is not the institutional Church; I might have overstated the Church’s role in this instance. These hospitals are their own entities; however, it is my understanding that they are staffed, administrated and overseen by members of the clergy, although not exclusively.

        I suspect the truth might lie somewhere in the middle. I definitely don’t buy the “rogue lawyer” theory, but it might be the case that the highest level liaison for the Church, namely the overseeing Bishop, only learned about what was going on after the fact. Plausible deniability would be employed in either case, so we can’t really say for certain who knew and when.

        As for the incident itself, from what I read, it seems like the wrongful death suit for the twins comes from the fact that the hospital didn’t even try to save them.

        What really gets me is not so much the action itself, but the aftermath. Its like if someone found out that they had benefited by purchasing ill-gotten goods, then putting out a statement that they’re really sorry for what that victim went through, but when asked if they plan to return what was stolen, they reply with, “Heck, no! Why would I do that?”

        Bottom line is that the Catholic Hospital benefitted from that legal strategy, and PR cleanup aside, they continued to benefit afterwards.

  3. You are right. The meme is hogwash. Our daughter was stillborn last September and we had a funeral mass for her even though she never had the chance to be baptized. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let them come to me, do not hinder them’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.” (CCC 1261)

  4. Ugh.
    I knew my baby was dying in the ninth month. I had a couple of days to have them slice me open and baptize him. But why would I do that? He died peacefully.

    God is not a legalist, we are legalists. A beautiful priest anointed him through the wall of my belly with holy oil. It was very moving, as was his graveside service, where everybody showed up in white by instinct.

    I didn’t fight in a war to preserve or create Democracy, and yet I live the freedom that others won for me.

    My baby got to skip this place of testing and war and return to the One who created Him. The bean counters would say this is unfair. It is what it is. Someday we will see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I would imagine that our wounds and battle scars will make us decorated veterans.

    1. I’m sorry for you loss.

      I’m reminded of the panic that took place a while back regarding “incorrect baptisms”, with people saying that entire sequences of sacraments were being invalidated, including the ordaining of some priests. An article by an atheist at the time was like: “What are you guys doing? I’m sure that God would understand your intent, even if you misspoke a word or two”.

      The people panicking over that were treating baptisms as if they were magic spells, or precise instructions that were being interpreted by a mindless automaton.

      1. I was mystified by that too. What a burden to be tied up in so many knots.

        Thanks. 🙂

      2. I recall a list of sins for priests hung in a sacristy of one old church. It mentioned that every mistake made during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, speeding through the passages, etc., were all venial sins and that the priest needs to examine his conscience concerning the way he practices saying Mass, but none of them invalidated Mass (or they would be mortal sins).
        So indeed, in practice, the Church never really made a fuss over this, though there is one story of a priest right after ordination when his grandma said that she’s so proud of him, especially since he was born so weak and would surely die, so they wanted to baptize him right away, but didn’t have water at hand, only whey, so they used it to baptize him. Long story short, he was baptized, confirmed, received Eucharist and was ordained on the spot again, but it was extremely surprising that it slipped past, and even without repeating the sacraments, none of them would be invalid (they were repeated only because the fact of incorrect baptism was made known).

  5. I’d suggest Catholics reply that what they do with sacraments is none of the outsiders business. Don’t discuss what belongs in the bedroom in the living room. The Gospel to those honestly inquiring is the Synoptics not the Gospel of St John, tell an obnoxious attacker that we can discuss a question but on your terms. And sacraments are not on the table, your curiosity is out of bounds.

  6. Well, yes, also I’m pretty certain Occupy Democrats would stop lodging habeas corpus appeals for a prisoner in death row of and after that prisoner had been executed.

  7. Thank you Mark for being a measured, mature voice amidst all the rancor. I am very disappointed in how many Catholics have aligned with the MAGA cult, and I’m glad you’re calling them out.

  8. To re-enforce Mark’s point that Sacraments are for the living with another example, we also won’t baptize a recently deceased 40 year old, even if they had been specifically requesting baptism before they died. And obviously we believe that 40 year old was alive. At the same time, we will bend over backwards to find ways to ensure that person is able to be baptized before they die (dispensing of all normative requirements before one can be baptized and by allowing anyone, even a non-Christian, to do it).

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