Archaeologists began searching for unmarked mass graves containing hundreds of unbaptized babies and infants buried by the Catholic Church on the edge of a Belfast cemetery.
Unlike many other Christian churches, the Catholic Church teaches that baptism is essential for a soul to enter heaven and therefore the ritual must take place as near to birth as possible. For decades, newborns and infants who die before baptism were deemed ineligible for salvation and were not buried on consecrated, or holy, ground.
Individual priests in Belfast began loosening that restriction in the 1980s as families demanded the right to bury their youngest loved ones in marked family plots.
“We’re coming out of what we can only regard as a mistaken theology of a hundred years ago,” said the Rev John McManus, a Belfast priest who has been working with local families demanding that their children’s resting place be mapped, marked and preserved.
“People have been carrying the grief and burden of losing a child for decades. It’s important we get this right.”
Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter.