Thousands are urging the Orthodox Church to abolish traditional baptism rituals in Romania after a six-week-old baby died following a ceremony.
The child suffered a cardiac arrest on Monday in the northeastern city of Suceava after being fully immersed in holy water three times by a priest. Paramedics resuscitated the child and placed him on a ventilator, but he died in hospital a few hours later.
The child’s father says doctors found 110 millilitres of liquid in his lungs, with the priest now under investigation for manslaughter.
“The boy was crying, but the priest immersed him three times in water and he inhaled water,” the distraught parent told local paper Monitorul de Suceava.
“The baby had blood on his nose. I put him face down to get the water out,” the father said. “He didn’t recover.”
Local broadcaster Antena 3 further reported that the child was born prematurely and was “extremely fragile.”
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In a Romanian Orthodox Church baptism, the baby is completely submerged in water three times in a row. The priest is trained to hold their nose to make sure they do not breathe in any water, however, several similar incidents in the area have been reported in recent years.
This week’s tragedy prompted an online petition calling for changes to the ritual. It has gathered more than 59,000 signatures as of Saturday morning.
The petition said: “The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy.
“This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”
Responding to the petition, one commenter denounced the “brutality” of the ritual. Another slammed the “stubbornness of those who think that it is the will of God” to continue it.
As reported by the Daily Mail, church spokesman Vasile Banescu suggested priests could pour or sprinkle a small amount of water on the baby’s forehead instead of full immersion.
However, Archbishop Teodosie, a leading conservative figure in the church, has asserted the ritual would not change, AFP reports.