Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Fr. Kenneth Doyle
Q — A few years ago, our pastor who was in his 70s retired and was replaced by a priest in his 30s. At the time our new priest was clean-cut, with short hair and no beard.

Shortly after arriving, though, he appeared to quit grooming and let his hair and beard grow, and they've been growing ever since. Now his hair is way over his ears and down his back, and his beard is to his waist.

We all assumed that this was some kind of anti-COVID-19 measure, but COVID-19 has vanished from our parish and things are back to normal.

Could this be some sort of vow of poverty? (The priest avoids questions about his grooming, but it has become a distraction at Mass.) (City and state withheld)

A — As to your question whether this priest’s long hair represents a vow of poverty, I doubt that this is the case — but the only sure route is to ask the priest himself.

You probably know that there is no present church disciplinary regulation that forbids priests from having beards or long hair, so your priest is on a safe canonical path.

The former Code of Canon Law (in 1917) did require clerics to have a simple hairstyle but did not specifically forbid beards; and the current code (issued in 1983) specifies that clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb but makes no mention of hair or beards.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, popes were frequently bearded, but since that time there has been no bearded pope. Some notable saints wore beards, including Ignatius of Loyola, Francis de Sales and Philip Neri.

I guess my advice to you would be to set aside your own preference as to this priest's appearance and just be grateful, especially during the current shortage of priests, that there is one to serve your parish.

Q — A friend of mine asked me recently to find out if the parish I was raised in would baptize her new baby. My friend is not a Catholic, so I was surprised that she asked me this. The priest at my parish said that he could not baptize the baby because the parents were not Catholic.

I was disappointed that the Catholic Church would turn away anyone seeking baptism. I think that the church should welcome people from all paths of life; that would open the way for them and eventually they might come to the church.

I wondered what Jesus would do, and I think that he would baptize anyone who sought it, regardless of their faith. I am wondering what your take is on this. (New Albany, Indiana)

A — First off, let me clear up a misconception. There are some Catholics who believe that, if a child dies without ever having been baptized, that child cannot go to heaven. That is not true. At one time, it may have been the common belief of Catholics that an unbaptized child would go to “limbo,” a state of natural happiness but short of the glories of heaven.

But in 2007, the Vatican's International Theological Commission, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, said that the concept of limbo reflected “an unduly restrictive view of salvation” and that the mercy of God offers good reason to hope that babies who die without being baptized can go to heaven.

As to your question about parents who are not Catholic wanting their child baptized, the relevant guideline is Canon 868 of the church's Code of Canon Law, which states that “for an infant to be baptized licitly ... there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion.”

Baptism involves the pledge of the parents to raise and educate their child in the beliefs and practices of the Catholic faith, and the baptismal ritual itself requires an affirmative response by the parents to that pledge.

Now I suppose that, theoretically, parents who were non-Catholics might have the firm intention of raising and educating their children as Catholics, though that does seem a bit unusual. But if that should be the case in this instance, I would suggest that you have the parents of the baby speak to the priest.

Q — Recently I graduated from high school, and I have a question about the eucharistic fast. This morning I went to the 7:30 Mass and had a cup of coffee with a protein shake in it before I left for church. The church was only a few minutes away, and I received Communion at the Mass, not thinking anything about the fast.

Is this a mortal sin? It was a complete mistake, but I feel so horrible for accidentally disrespecting the Eucharist, and I would greatly appreciate your guidance. (City and state withheld)

A — Of course it’s not a mortal sin — or any sin at all. It was simply — as you said — a mistake, done without any thought at all. Sin requires a deliberate intention to do something wrong. And here is my question for you: What do you think God is really like?

For me, God is not some giant scorekeeper in the sky whose primary interest it is to keep track of rights and wrongs. God is the person who brought you into existence out of love, wants you to be happy here on earth and to be with him forever in heaven. So try to relax and know how much God loves you.