Priest Under Investigation After Baby Dies Following Orthodox Baptism Ritual

A petition calling for a ritual where babies are submerged three times during baptism to be banned has received 60,000 signatures in Romania.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
February 5, 2021, 3:47pm
A Romanian Orthodox priest sinking a child in holy water during baptism, in a church in Bucharest in 2014.
A Romanian Orthodox priest sinking a child in holy water during baptism, in a church in Bucharest in 2014. Photo: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images

Prosecutors in Romania have launched a criminal investigation into a Romanian Orthodox priest after the death of a six-week-old baby shortly after their baptism. 

The incident has sparked calls for the Romanian Orthodox Church to reform baptism rituals that require babies to be fully submerged three times. An online petition calling for the end of the practice has gathered nearly 60,000 signatures. 

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The baby, whose family live in the eastern city of Suceava, died after suffering a heart attack, hours after the ceremony. An autopsy later found water in the child’s lungs. The identities of the baby’s family and the priest who performed the baptism have not been disclosed.

Vasile Bănescu, a spokesperson for the Romanian Orthodox Church, called for prosecutors to speed up the investigation into the incident, and encouraged churches to modify their practices, recommending they sprinkle holy water over the recipients instead.

“The results of the investigation by the secular authorities will be made public by the Archdiocese as soon as possible,” Bănescu said in a statement. “It’s hard for us to understand why God let this happen. The position of the Romanian Church is one of deep compassion towards the family of the deceased child, whose pain we cannot even fully understand."

However, an influential Romanian cleric has rejected calls to reform the ceremony. Archbishop Teodosie Petrescu, who has been the Archbishop of Tomis since 2001 and is the leader of the church’s conservative wing, insisted that the ritual cannot deviate from how it is prescribed in scripture. 

“There’s no way for the ritual to change,” Teodosie said. “These canons of faith will be available for another thousand years. That is why we will not change. We’re not intimidated.”