Limbo ‘remains a possible theological hypothesis’
Unbaptised babies ‘won’t get to Heaven, of course’
Rose on a tomb
Our first baby was born on July 21st, 1970 in Dublin and died three days later.
I had asked for baby Antonia to be baptised. The hospital performed the burial. As the years went by, there were regular reminders that served to intensify my feelings of loss.
The fact that there was no certainty about whether Antonia had actually been baptised was a constant factor. This became a major source of pain when, in 1977, the Bishop of Cork, Cornelius Lucey, said that unbaptised babies “won’t get to Heaven, of course”.
I responded in a letter to The Irish Times: “To state that babies who die before baptism will not see God is an insult to Jesus Christ, who died for all of us”. But the uncertainty still troubled at me.
The brush with Bishop Lucey gave me the impetus to consider seeking the location of Antonia’s grave. I phoned Glasnevin. I gave them the relevant details, name, address, date of birth, date of death, hospital involved. To my great surprise and even joy, they immediately gave me the reference number to identify the location where she was buried. They offered to give me personal assistance if I had any difficulty in finding it myself.
It was as if I had suddenly received external confirmation, for the first time, that Antonia had lived. She was on the record, albeit of a cemetery. I was very impressed and grateful for the rapidity and ease with which I had been dealt with. The code for the location was Z 303. Some time later I identified the location of her unmarked grave.
Mass gravesIn 1983, a constitutional referendum allocated rights to unborn babies. The Irish Times published a letter from me:
“Now that the unborn have been assigned constitutional rights, could I put in a word for those babies who die at the peri-natal period? At the moment and for many years past, these babies have been disposed of in mass graves, without any clear recognition that they ever lived. No religious service would appear to be part of the disposal procedure and even baptism can remain uncertain . . .
“It is interesting to note that the Methodist Church has approved a funeral and naming service for the stillborn. A religious service would give some comfort to the family. It would confirm that a birth/ death had actually happened, rather than leaving parents feeling that they were involved in a bad dream”.
In 2007, the Catholic Church published The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised. It reflected Pope Benedict’s 2005 view, which doubted the existence of Limbo. It stated: “People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian.”
Limbo possibleThis was taken in the popular mind as consigning Limbo to oblivion. I read the document carefully and discovered otherwise. It stated that the traditional teaching on Limbo “remains a possible theological hypothesis . . . The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism . . .
“There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable – to baptise them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.”
This set me deliberating again whether in fact Antonia had ever been baptised. I rang the hospital and was told that such records would be at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral. A search there proved negative.
I contacted the hospital again and was invited in to meet a chaplain. I was told that there was no record of the baptism at the hospital but that more investigations could take place.
In early 2013, I received a registered letter saying: “Having reviewed the nursery book from 1970, I can confirm there is an entry for a female Jordan which records a date of birth of 21.07.1970 and date of discharge as 23.07.1970. It also records the religion as Roman Catholic and that the baby was baptised”.
Anthony J Jordan is a biographer and historian who lives in Sandymount, Dublin