Romanian Orthodox Church under fire after a six-week-old baby died of cardiac arrest during baptism

Orthodox priests immerse a child in 'holy water' 3 times during baptism. Photo: Daniel Mihăilescu/AFP/Getty
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Romania’s Orthodox Church is facing increasing pressure to change baptism rituals after a 6-week-old baby boy suffered heart attack during baptism and later died.

The Orthodox Church has a long-standing tradition of immersing infants three times in what they call holy water in the name of baptism.

More than 60,000 people as of Friday night February 5, have signed a petition urging the Orthodox Church to change its baptism ritual.

“Given the tragic situations in which infants died after immersion in the water in the baptismal font, the church must urgently regulate this practice!” the petition reads.

“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy,” said a message with the petition. “This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”

The six-week-old baby suffered cardiac arrest on Sunday after being immersed in a baptismal font three times during his baptism at a church in Suceava, north-eastern Romania, CNN affiliate Antena 3 reported.

He was resuscitated in the Church by paramedics and taken to the Intensive Care Unit at Suceava County Hospital but died after a few hours. Autopsy revealed liquid in his lungs.

Prosecutors have now opened a homicide investigation against the priest in the north-eastern city of Suceava, according to the report.

Local media described several similar incidents in recent years. Church spokesman Vasile Banescu said priests could pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of full immersion. But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.

“It is, without a doubt, a tragic case, a case that will have to be investigated. Let’s not imagine that a child can be put in water without covering his nose, mouth and ears,” Vasile Bănescu, spokesman for the Romanian Patriarchate, reportedly said.

Orthodox Church is the most popular and trusted institution in Romania. Recent opinion polls show that more than 80% Romanians are Orthodox.

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