The Orthodox Church in Romania is facing growing pressure to change baptism rituals after a six-week-old baby died following a ceremony earlier this week.
The baby boy reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest during the Baptism on Monday and was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later, with autopsy revealing liquid in his lungs.
Prosecutors have now opened a manslaughter investigation against the priest in the north-eastern city of Suceava.
An online petition calling for changes to the ritual had gathered more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday evening.
“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy,” said a message with the petition. “This risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph.”
Due to several similar incidents in recent years, Church spokesman, Vasile Banescu had suggested that priests pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of immersing infants three times in holy water. But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.
More than 80% of Romanians are Orthodox and the Church is one of the most trusted institutions, according to recent opinion polls.