A six-week-old baby boy has died after his face was submerged in water several times during an orthodox baptism in Romania.
The baby suffered a cardiac arrest and was rushed to hospital but died a few hours later, the autopsy revealing liquid in his lungs.
The Orthodox Church is facing growing pressure to change baptism rituals in Romania which involves immersing infants three times in holy water.
Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter probe against the priest in the northeastern city of Suceava.
An online petition calling for changes to the ritual had gathered more than 56,000 signatures by Thursday, 4 February, evening.
“The death of a newborn baby because of this practice is a huge tragedy, this risk must be ruled out for the joy of baptism to triumph, said a message with the petition.
One internet user denounced the ‘brutality’ of the ritual and another criticised the ‘stubbornness’ of those who think that it is the will of God to maintain it.
Local media recounted several similar incidents in recent years.
Church spokesman Vasile Banescu said priests could pour a little water on the baby’s forehead instead of full immersion.
But Archbishop Teodosie, leader of the Church’s traditionalist wing, said the ritual would not change.
More than 80 per cent of Romanians are Orthodox and the Church is one of the most trusted institutions, according to recent opinion polls.