The incident happened in the northeastern city of Suceava, where the child was completely immersed in holy water three times for the ceremony.
The child suffered a cardiac arrest during the ritual and was rushed to hospital, the AFP reports. Paramedics resuscitated the child and placed him on a ventilator, but he died early Monday morning.
The child’s father says doctors found 110 millilitres of liquid in the baby’s lungs.
“The boy was crying, but the priest immersed him three times in water and he inhaled water,” he told local paper Monitorul de Suceava.
He added that he was outraged by the priest’s conduct, especially when he saw the child’s condition after the third immersion.
“The baby had blood on his nose. I put him face down to get the water out,” the father said. “He didn’t recover.”
Local broadcaster Antena 3 reports that the child was born prematurely and was “extremely fragile.”
More than 59,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the Orthodox Church update its baptism practices in the wake of the death. The petition points out that others have died under similar circumstances in the past.
“The Church must urgently regulate this practice,” the petition says. It demands that baptism be changed, not ended, to prevent “unnecessary and even absurd risks.”
The petition recommends adopting a standard practice that some priests already employ, which consists of symbolically pouring a bit of water over the child’s head.
“The accidental death of babies due to such wrong practices is a boundless tragedy that brings pain instead of joy,” the petition says.
A spokesperson for the church told the AFP that priests are allowed to pour a little water on the child’s forehead instead of performing a full immersion. Archbishop Theodosius, a leading conservative figure in the church, said there will be no changes to the way it conducts baptisms.
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation into the priest, the AFP reports.
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