A six-week-old baby has died of heart attack following a baptism by immersion in an Orthodox Church in Romania.
The infant was said to be rushed to the hospital in Suceava but died a few hours later. The autopsy revealed he had water in his lungs.
A spokesperson for the hospital, Dan Teodorovici, was quoted by local media as saying: “A one-month-and-a-half baby was found in cardiac arrest in the church after the baptism service. The baby was respited by the SMURD unit that arrives on the spot.
“He was hospitalised in serious condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit, was intubated and mechanically ventilated.”
The father of the child told Monitorul de Suceava: “The boy was crying but the priest submerged him three times in water and he inhaled water. [I] removed him, wiped him, from the doctors I found out he inhaled 110ml of water… If you see a child with a gaping mouth and crying you wouldn’t immerse him completely in water, would you?”
Prosecutors have now opened a manslaughter investigation against the priest who performed the ceremony.
An online petition calling for changes to the ritual had gathered more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday evening.
“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy,” said a message with the petition. “This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”
Due to several similar incidents in recent years, Church spokesman, Vasile Banescu had suggested that priests pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of immersing infants three times in holy water. But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.
More than 80% of Romanians are Orthodox and the Church is one of the most trusted institutions, according to recent opinion polls.