Conditional baptism

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: In your book, When Other Christians Become Catholic, you clearly address the circumstances under which conditional baptism is recommended.   May (or at least some) priests conditionally baptize candidates for Full Communion “just in case,” even when there is no reason to doubt that baptism but when there isn’t proof of a certificate.  In our parish this has occurred frequently on the morning of Holy Saturday privately, as recommended in the RCIA.  When this occurs, and these candidates are received into Full Communion at the Easter Vigil, they have been confirmed along with the other candidates and the neophytes.   In the past, no special delegation from the bishop has been sought, following Can. 883 which says “The following possess the faculty of administering confirmation by the law itself: 2° as regards the person in question, the presbyter who by virtue of office or mandate of the diocesan bishop baptizes one who is no longer an infant or admits one already baptized into the full communion of the Catholic Church.”

One of the priests in our diocese recently raised the question about conditional baptism, to which one of the canonists in our diocese rendered the opinion that,

“the faculty given by the law itself would apply in that situation, certainly by the fact of the person coming into full communion with the Church, but also by the act of baptizing. While we may be offering a conditional baptism “just in case”, we treat that as the person’s baptism, and the faculty granted by the law itself is given to the priest. So the priest baptizing then offering confirmation would be appropriate and required.”

He further recommended the following: 

“Now, for the faculty “ex iure” for the priest to confirm the person, the confirmation would have to be done in the same ceremony as the conditional baptism. I know that RCIA says the conditional baptism ought to be done in private (implying before and separate from the public celebration of confirmation i.e. in the Easter Vigil). If the priest follows that process, he would have to receive the faculty to confirm from the Archbishop since it would be in a separate ceremony and the person who was conditional baptized was baptized with catholic intention by a catholic minister.  So in this situation, I would disregard the prescription from RCIA to conditionally baptize privately and do the baptism in the same ceremony as the confirmation, which conforms to canon law and the faculties the law itself gives.”

The canonists seems to be suggesting that if our pastor is inclined to conditionally baptize someone, he should simply baptize the person along with the other Elect so that the faculty “ex iure” would remain intact.  What do you think about this interpretation of the law, this pastoral recommendation, and the integrity of the RCIA in light of such an interpretation.

Finally, since our pastor has confirmed many people at the Easter Vigil who were conditionally baptized at a prior private ceremony, what is the status of validity or liceity of these confirmations which were performed perhaps erroneously under the assumption of “ex iure” faculty to confirm?

Thank you for any assistance you can provide to us in understanding this thorny issue.


A: I am not a canon lawyer, so this is getting into territory outside my expertise.

I don’t see how you can reconcile conditional baptisms on Holy Saturday morning with the first instruction in the Roman Missal under Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion: “On this and the following day, by a most ancient tradition, the Church does not celebrate the Sacraments at all, except for Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.”

To me, baptizing a candidate for full communion “just in case” seems contrary to the law and offensive to Christians everywhere.

The bishop is to be consulted before every conditional baptism as he determines its form case by case.

I’ve always interpreted canons 883 and 885 to refer to a single liturgical celebration of baptism or reception that includes confirmation.

I try to avoid conditional baptism for all of these problems that it raises. I try to do due diligence on each case and render a decision in favor of or against the fact or validity of a person’s baptism. Then I either accept the baptism as valid or baptize absolutely. I think this is better than reverting to conditional baptism.

Again, I’m not a canon lawyer. These are my views.