There have been times in Church history when individual Catholics have secretly baptized the child of non-Catholic parents without their consent. Their reasoning seemed pretty solid: Baptism is necessary for salvation.
However, parents have rights over their children.
Let’s investigate this act to determine if it’s ever OK.
What “baptism is necessary for salvation” means.
The Church teaches that baptism is the ordinary
means of salvation. This means that God arranged things as He did willing for us to receive baptism in order to be incorporated into the Church and to receive His divine life in us.
However, the Church also teaches that God is not bound by His sacraments. He can choose to save someone who — through no fault of their own — cannot receive baptism. For example, a catechumen is set to receive baptism in a few weeks but is murdered beforehand. They can still be saved because of the intense desire they had to be baptized.
This means we shouldn’t despair over the souls of infants who die without the sacraments. We should simply entrust them to the care of our infinitely loving God.
Non-Catholic parents also have parental rights.
God, in His Providence, ordains that each child is born to a particular set of parents. In other words, the child’s birth to non-Catholics is not an accident.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that even non-Catholic parents retain their parental rights. Therefore, one should not baptize an infant against the will of the parents because it undermines their natural authority. He also points out that it’s very unlikely that such a child would be raised in the faith.
There’s one exception.
If an infant is dying, anybody can baptize them, including a layperson. All you must do is pour true water over the baby while saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” while intending what the Church intends.
Remember, the sacraments aren’t magic. Secretly baptizing a child of non-Catholic parents doesn’t guarantee that the child will grow up to be a practicing Catholic. You must trust God’s Providence. After all, He is the one who ultimately saves, not you.