‘Infant conscripts’ and perspectives on baptism


Sir, – I wish to respond to Mary McAleese’s comments that babies baptised into the Catholic Church are “infant conscripts who are held to lifelong obligations of obedience” (Patsy McGarry, Front page, June 23rd).

Education is not the only reason parents put their children forward for baptism. If parents don’t believe, it doesn’t make sense for them to put their children forward for baptism.

But conscription is not a fair representation of the matter.

Children are conscripted into life, if you want to be pedantic about things.

If it comes to it, children are conscripted into education too, because their parents want the best for them.

It’s a parent’s duty of care to do what they think best for their children, and why would parents not want the best for their children? If they believe in God and their Catholic faith, they want that best for their children too, and so they present them for baptism. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, – I strongly disagree with Dr Mary McAleese’s interpretation of baptism.

The primary meaning of this sacrament has to do with bringing a person into the church, as into a family.

How ridiculous would it be for parents to forego recognition of their child, until, say, he/she reached the age of 18 years and could freely consent to being part of that family? Baptism is a gift and an invitation. We all recognise that, as young people grow up, they will make up their own minds about what is important to them. – Yours, etc,



Port Elizabeth,

South Africa.

Sir, – Mary McAleese’s take on infant baptism (Front page, June 23rd) is frank, interesting, and flat-out mistaken.

The language of “infant conscripts”, of obligations and contracts, points to a legalistic understanding of faith as a burden rather than a blessing. The idea that in baptism, children are somehow locked in to a life of servile obedience is bizarre, and is, in any case, contradicted by Mrs McAleese herself, when she notes that people are free in matters of conscience, belief, opinion and religion.

As for the suggestion that parents are acting contrary to fundamental human rights by seeking to share the blessing of faith with their children, surely this is the kind of over-reaching rhetoric that can be used to pave the way to actual breaches of human rights.

The same logic should surely apply to “enforced” citizenship. By what right do we confer citizenship on those too young to understand it, or to bear any of the responsibility associated with it?

The parallel with citizenship is not insignificant.

Since the beginning of Christianity, there has been a view of faith as a form of alternative or parallel citizenship. This has always rankled with those who see civil authority as ultimate, an error that Mrs McAleese might be courting, by suggesting that the passing on of faith, beginning in infancy, with baptism, is an injustice that might need to be remedied. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – We are becoming used to, even bored by, former president Mary McAleese’s angry and disaffected pronouncements on the Catholic Church and its faith (Front page, June 23rd).

Her latest comments, nevertheless, describing infants being baptised as “conscripts”, are indicative of a profound ignorance in someone who really ought to know better.

There is absolutely nothing in the church’s understanding of baptism, nor in the theology of that sacrament, to justify Mary McAleese’s absurd and offensive remarks.

Our baptismal calling is an invitation – not a coercion – as every faithful Catholic knows. In presenting children for baptism, faithful Catholics seek the very best for their children – in this life – and also for the life that is to come.

The invitation made at Baptism, it is sincerely hoped, will be accepted and embraced by the child in due course, as maturity develops. However, it can also be freely rejected.

There are no “conscripts” in the community of the faithful. No one is forced to do anything against his or her will. That also goes for Mary McAleese.

No one may wrap the church’s teachings and theology around his or her own individualistic notions and whims. It is time Mrs McAleese showed some spiritual integrity and honesty, if she is so prone to taking continuous offence, at the church’s faith. – Yours, etc,



Corpus Christi,


Sir, – Surely Mary McAleese’s description of babies being baptised into the Catholic Church as “infant conscripts” is a step too far even in the context of her crusade to undermine the church.

This can only be seen as a calculated insult to parents who wish to have their children christened.

Also linking early baptism to breaches in human rights is ludicrous.

In baptism the child is simply welcomed into the community of love initiated by Jesus Christ. Whatever direction the child wishes to take in later life is entirely in their own hands.

Her criticism of Catholicism is entirely in line with the current narrative acceptable in political and media circles and her notions of human rights, freedom and conscience are based wholly on an agenda that embraces the primacy of choice above all else.

The church, as we all know, is certainly not above criticism but the language used by Mrs McAleese is now evolving into that which one would find in the comments sections of some of the more radical blogs. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 24.