Yesterday morning, I listened to the 1/26/18 podcast of “The Catholic Connection” talk radio show (The Station of the Cross, WLOF (Our Lady of Fatima) 101.7 FM, Buffalo, New York) with moderator, Jim Havens, and priest-host, Shannon Collins (photo right). The topic of the show was unbaptized infants and the existence of “limbo.”
In Catholic theology, baptism is an absolute requirement in the process of attaining salvation.* Catholicism teaches that the baptismal waters actually wash away original sin by working ex opere operato, i.e., baptism and the other sacraments being efficacious in and of themselves rather than dependent on the attitude of either the priest or the recipient. Catholics are usually baptized as infants, but when they mature, they are expected to follow church teaching by receiving the other sacraments in order to receive graces to assist them in obeying the Ten Commandments (impossible!) in order to hopefully merit Heaven at the moment of their death.
Catholic teaching throughout the centuries was that unbaptized babies who died were consigned to a place called “limbo,” an outer-region of Hell where there was no suffering, but neither was the soul in communion with God (i.e., the “Bosom of Abraham” of the Old Testament). Although the teaching on unbaptized babies being consigned to limbo was never officially declared as dogma, bishops, theologians, and even popes sanctioned this belief. When I attended Catholic parochial school in the 60s, the priests and nuns taught unbaptized infants were consigned to limbo. The Baltimore Catechism, the recognized authority on doctrine for American Catholics up until the late 1960s, unequivocally taught that all unbaptized babies went to limbo:
“Limbo: The place where unbaptized infants go.” – The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism (No. 2), 1991 edition, p. 248., – Imprimatur – Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York
During the radio show, conservative priest Collins bemoaned the fact that many in the church have moved away from the traditional teaching on limbo. In the official 1992 catechism, there is no mention of limbo. Instead, the church states that it “hope(s) that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism” (CCC #1261, see here). In 2006, pope Benedict stated limbo did not exist (photo left). These days, sympathetic priests comfort parents of miscarried fetuses by saying that their child is in Heaven, but Collins is critical of such counsel. He does acknowledge, however, that “some” conservative Catholic priests believe that in cases where a fetus or infant died before being baptized, the desire of the parents for that child to have been baptized “may” suffice in the place of actual baptism.
Oy. Is your head starting to spin yet?
What about fetuses who are aborted? Collins says they are definitely going to limbo. Havens and Collins briefly discussed the “holy innocents,” the male infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were killed by King Herod in his effort to murder Jesus. They were actually canonized as “saints” by the Catholic church because they were said to have died as innocent martyrs in the place of Christ. Huh? So Collins agrees with traditional church teaching that the “holy innocents” went to Heaven even though they weren’t baptized, but he holds that aborted fetus babies and other unbaptized babies probably do not. Collins also satisfyingly commented that for centuries the church never allowed unbaptized infants to be buried in Catholic consecrated cemeteries. Even these days, grieving parents of deceased unbaptized infants must submit to a dispensation process through their diocese in order to have their child buried in a Catholic cemetery. See here.
I don’t put ANY stock in what priest Collins or the Catholic catechism says on this subject. God’s Word teaches that children reach an age of accountability when they are responsible for their active rebellion against the Lord. That age is going to be different for each child. Prior to that, infants, young children, and the mentally handicapped are covered by God’s grace. Baptism saves no one. I renounced my Catholic infant baptism by being baptized as an adult 35 years ago as a public witness of my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal Savior by faith alone. Trust in Christ by faith alone. Baptism, sacraments, rituals, and religious legalism save no one.
“He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:22–23
“Then the little children were brought to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them; and the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” – Matthew 19:13-14
*The Catholic church holds to two very conflicting teachings simultaneously. On the one hand, it still insists that everyone must be baptized in order to even start thinking about eventually meriting Heaven. On the other hand it grants that people of all religious beliefs and even atheists can also merit heaven if they “follow the light they have been given” with a “sincere heart.” How does the church reconcile this dichotomy? It says all these “good” non-Catholics would have gotten baptized if they only knew how important it was, so they’re also covered under the “baptism of desire.” Hmm. Anyone else hearing, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” What we really have here is a case of old Catholic tradition (“all must be baptized to be saved”) conflicting with “new school” wide-is-the-way Catholic ecumenism. So unbaptized atheists can merit Heaven but unbaptized babies are barred? I’m confused. Well, not really. It’s just another Catholic rabbit hole.