Romanian Orthodox Church faces backlash after baby dies following baptism

A manslaughter investigation has been opened into the priest who performed the ceremony

Tens of thousands of people have reportedly signed an online petition for the Orthodox Church in Romania to stop immersing babies underwater during baptisms amid a growing backlash following the death of a baby.

A six-week-old went into a cardiac arrest Monday after having his head placed underwater three times during the baptism in Suceava, Romania, and died hours later at a hospital, Agence France Presse reported. An autopsy revealed water in the baby’s lungs.

A manslaughter investigation has been opened into the priest who performed the ceremony.

"The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy," someone who signed the petition, which had more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday evening, reportedly wrote. "This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph."

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A picture taken on May 11, 2014 shows a Romanian Orthodox priest sinking a child in holy water during baptism, in a church in Bucharest. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images)

A picture taken on May 11, 2014 shows a Romanian Orthodox priest sinking a child in holy water during baptism, in a church in Bucharest. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images)

Local media has reported similar incidents in the last few years, AFP reported.

Others called the ritual "brutal" and accused those who believe immersion is the "will of God" of "stubbornness."

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Church spokesman Vasile Banescu suggested priests could instead pour or sprinkle water over the baby’s forehead, which is a common practice around the world, but Archbishop Teodosie, who leads the traditionalist wing, refused to change the ritual, AFP reported.

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