Conditional baptism is like being struck by lightning: What RCIA teams need to know

13 thoughts on “Conditional baptism is like being struck by lightning: What RCIA teams need to know”

  1. Maybe it is where we are in Texas, but it seems that we are being struck by lightning pretty regularly these past 5 years. We have had several seekers that were baptized in a river at a family gathering by a minister whose Christian affiliation is not clear. One or two were baptized by a relative who was a self- ordained minister whose Christian denomination couldn’t be verified. Two others were baptized in a church that no longer exists, with no records and no living witnesses to verify it was valid.
    The good news is that the seekers were happy to be baptized again conditionally after it was explained to them.

  2. I had a conditional baptism as we simply were not sure if I had had one when I was born. No records (I looked), and since I was almost 60 when I entered the Church, there was no one left alive who could verify it. I had no issue with it at all (it’s “conditional,” so poses no real problem). There was a lady going through RCIA at the same time who was freaked out about it but she finally found old records somewhere. At my parish we do conditionals whenever there is legitimate doubt and/or the candidate really wants it done.

  3. In the 15+ yrs I’ve been involved in this ministry there have been numerous instances when individuals have had either no knowledge of the church of baptism, or official documentation. And yet, I cannot recall any instances of when we resorted to conditional baptism. In several cases we have relied upon affidavits by parents, siblings, and others… even old photos! In others, much more searching and questioning was necessary.
    In many cases, I think the process itself becomes a mystagogical experience in having the individuals involved try to remember the details of the experience, why it did or did not leave a lasting impression, what were the circumstances of their lives at the time, etc. Giving this situation the time and effort it deserves emphasizes not only the significance of every valid Christian baptism, but also the fact that formation and initiation are more that just a catechism class.

  4. Conditional Baptism

    I’ve been struck by lightning! We had to do a conditional baptism with an elderly gentleman. Anyone that could prove he was baptized was dead and he had no idea where he was baptized. He didn’t even know the state of baptism.

  5. I like the emphasis in the article about not trying to do the work of disproving a baptism. We really do try our best to find documentation and in absence of that some type of witness testimony. I have 2 POFs this year who are in their 60s and so do not have parents to testify and for whatever reason siblings and friends are also gone. Luckily, one was married a long time ago at our church and I was able to find records of the marriage and hence records of his baptism. The other was more complicated–involving a name change and a church no longer in existence–but was ultimately resolved.

    To the point of the article: to my knowledge, we have never had a conditional baptism at the Vigil. I have some memories of someone years back who was very old. If memory is correct, his conditional baptism was done separately prior to the Vigil during one of his meetings with the pastor. And then he came forward at the Vigil as a candidate.

    Finally, I have a question: is there a particular way that a conditional baptism is entered into the Registry? In the future, should such a person need a baptismal certificate or his/her sacramental records, where would that be entered and what would it say?

    1. I have worked with RCIA in some capacity for 28 years. My ministry formation processes have indicated that the conditional baptism process they you described is an appropriate way the perform a conditional baptism and is to be preferred.

  6. Here in the Canadian Bible Belt, we get “struck by lightning” every few years. I’m currently dealing with a situation of someone who went to what he thinks was a Lutheran summer camp when he was about 10 years old. He was taken there by a neighbor family whose last name he doesn’t remember; they only lived on his street for a couple of years. His atheist parents went away somewhere, leaving him on his own, so this family took him to camp with their son (who he didn’t even like; they were not friends) He remembers that they were baptizing people but he doesn’t remember whether he went forward for baptism at that time, or not. He remembers thinking that his parents would be very angry if they found out that he didn’t stay home that summer, and apparently I’m the first person he’s ever told. He also remembers that they were praying and singing “in tongues” which makes me think that possibly they were not Lutherans, although these days, anything is possible.


    I know of one conditional baptism in my parish in the 1990’s. A man in his 60’s grew up thinking he was Catholic, but there was no record in churches in his home town that he had received any of the sacraments. I do not know what efforts my parish priest made in investigating, but I god-fathered that older man in a conditional baptism.

    Again, three years ago, I had my doubts about two, a father and adult daughter, having been baptized. The man’s history included a number of Baptist churches; the daughter’s just one Baptist church. Neither one could provide documentation nor witness accounts. And they could not recall even an approximate time or place of baptism. To this day I doubt that the daughter in particular was ever baptized, given that infant baptism was not a practice in her previous tradition. They were received into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil by Confirmation and Eucharist.

  8. What I have had more often is folks who were baptized in the past , but don’t think it “took” and want to be baptized again. As they have gone thru the process, they are now on fire with their faith and want to start afresh . Another opportunity for catechesis, but they are oft still disappointed.

  9. It’s not unusual for us to have a conditional baptism. We have one most most years. Perhaps it’s the size of our parish (8,300 families) or the transient nature of our city. We will have 25 adult and children catechumens baptized at Vigil this year, another dozen people making professions of faith and entering into full communion, and about 30 Catholic adults for Confirmation.

  10. This is a fascinating topic and discussion. For the past 22 years that I’ve spent in the RCIA we’ve never been struck by lightning, but there have been a few times where it came close. In those instances I found that by doing our homework, by working with the candidate and by doing some extra investigation, we were able to make a valid determination. Most importantly, however, is realizing that this is not a call we need to (nor should we) make ourselves. We must engage our pastors and if necessary the help of the diocesan Tribunal to sort this out. Utilizing these resources is particularly important when there are marriage issues to review because their baptismal status plays an important role in those proceedings. There’s no question this takes some extra work, but I found that both the candidates and myself learned a lot through the process. And for those larger parishes that seem to have a lot of people with questionable baptisms, I would recommend having a team member (or two) dedicated to investigating these cases. Building some institutional knowledge through these cases can also help make them easier to sort through in the long run.

  11. Felicia Bosinski

    We had one in the 30 some years of RCIA in our parish. The young man moved to our area from another state. He said he was baptized at birth in danger of death. We could not get any certification nor did his mother witness the baptism. He said he didn’t mind being baptized but, I told him it was a last resort. In reviewing The RCIA manual, I found a reference that said that a conditional Baptism was proper but, that it should be a private one. Since this young man worked evenings, we met with him on Wednesday mornings and our Pastor did baptize him conditionally on a Wednesday morning in the presence of the RCIA team. He was then prepared for reconciliation. He was not able to get the night of Vigil off from his job. The Bishop of the Diocese did grant our pastor the faculty to Confirm him and give him his first Holy Communion on the Sunday after Easter at the morning Mass.

  12. Mary Ann Corcoran

    The strong motivation for promoting CONDITIONAL BAPTISM in my diocese is the lack of clarity of the wording used in other Christian Churches. In the years since Vatican II, some creative language for the Blessed Trinity has evolved which sounds like the same concept but is not the teaching of the Church. For example, “I baptize you in the name of the One who created you, and of the One who redeemed you and of the One who Sanctifies you.” If there is no witness or existing video of the Baptism, then proof of Baptism “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is not confirmed, and then we are encouraged to baptize conditionally.
    The guideline that “absolute proof” is not necessary and that investigation and the word of the candidate are to provide the proof, gives me encouragement.

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