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Russian Priest In Hot Water Over Violent Baptism

Father Foty defended his actions by saying that the ceremony does not always go quietly and that the mother was scared for her son and behaved "extremely emotionally." (illustrative photo)

A Russian Orthodox priest has been banned from the clergy for one year after video emerged of him performing a baptism so violent that the infant's mother filed a complaint with the police.

Footage of the August 10 incident at the Marienburg Intercessional Church in the Leningrad region city of Gatchina, 40 kilometers south of St. Petersburg, shows a priest identified as Father Foty using considerable force as he attempts to immerse a 1-year-old boy's head in a baptismal font.

After pushing the kicking and screaming infant's head under water a first time, Father Foty can be seen fending off attempts by the protesting mother to take the child away from him as he tries to immerse its head again. At one point the priest appears to cover the boy's nose and mouth in an apparent attempt to stifle his screams.

In tweeting video of the ceremony on August 11, the Kremlin-friendly local news station Channel 5 claimed that the child was "almost killed," and that the boy's body suffered bruises and abrasions from the incident.

The same day, the Gatchina Diocese issued an official apology from local Bishop Mitrofan, and announced that Father Foty had been banned from ministerial duties, barred from wearing clerical robes, and would be unable to give blessings for one year.

"The high rank of clergyman obliges its holder to serve in the image of the Good Shepherd -- our Lord Jesus Christ -- and to perform all sacred actions reverently, with the fear of God and a sensitive attitude toward the children of the church," the statement reads.

Bishop Mitrofan, the statement continues, "hopes that the incident does not become an obstacle to the spiritual life of the baby and his family."

The video and the subsequent outrage it prompted across Russia attracted the attention of higher authorities in the capital, with Hieromonk Gennady of the Moscow Patriarchate's department of parish education calling the priest's actions "madness" in comments to RIA Novosti on August 11.

"One inadequate person in the holy cloth can become an insurmountable obstacle in the path of God for not only the tens, but the thousands of people who watched that video," he told the state news agency.

Father Foty later attempted to defend his actions, telling Channel 5 on August 12 that the child's parents were unfamiliar with the rites of the church, and that the meaning of baptism and how it should be performed had not been explained.

He said that he intended to immerse the child's head three times, in accordance with the rules of baptism, and noted that the ceremony does not always go quietly and that the mother was scared for her son and behaved "extremely emotionally."

"According to the rules of the church," he added, "baptism with a small amount of water is only permissible in cases of serious illness or mortal danger to the child."

In the aftermath of the incident, questions emerged about the past of Father Foty, who was reportedly ordained in 1997.

Multiple Russian outlets cited parishioners portraying the priest in an unpleasant light.

A source in the Gatchina Diocese's press service said that while the diocese had not received any official complaints about Father Foty, the priest had been transferred there as a disciplinary measure resulting from his time serving at another Leningrad region church.

Parishioners at the church in Bolshaya Vruda, according to RIA Novosti, described Father Foty as "unpleasant and demanding."

The police complaint made by the mother, whose name was not revealed by Russian media, is under investigation.