Q. 1. What is the Catholic Church teaching on the Sacrament of Baptism for stillborn infants?
A. 1. First it is necessary to explain what is a stillborn infant. A stillbirth is defined as the intrauterine death and subsequent delivery of a developing infant that occurs later than twenty completed weeks of gestation. A stillbirth occurs when a fetus has died in the uterus. A natural birth did not take place.
Secondly, it needs to be understood that the Sacraments of the Catholic Church are for the living. The Sacrament of Baptism represents the entrance of a person into the faith community of Christians, with the intention of putting that faith into action.
Based on the aforementioned, the baptism of a stillborn cannot possibly represent the beginning of a lifelong effort to live out the Gospel. As such, the baptism of a stillborn infant is not permitted in the Catholic Church.
In a situation where there is doubt as to whether the moment of death has occurred, the priest can baptize conditionally. (To baptize conditionally means in the event that there may still be life remaining.)
"As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.