2012-06-28 / Local & State

Pa. Couple Sue Hospital, Priest Over “Baptism”

By Joe Mandak


PITTSBURGH (AP) – A couple has sued a city hospital and a Russian Orthodox priest who they claim conducted an unauthorized “emergency baptism” of their premature newborn son, even though the priest contends he merely said a prebaptismal prayer for the child and never even saw or touched him.

Amanda and David Tatarko, of Aliquippa, are suing the priest for “assault and battery” stemming from what they said was the priest’s “unwanted touching” of the child, among other claims. The suit alto targets his Christ Our Savior Orthodox Church parish in Indiana, Pa.; the diocese; and Magee-Women’s Hospital at UPMC, among others. The couple’s attorney, Jeffrey Myers, contends his clients are upset they weren’t told about the ceremony at the hospital where their son, Logan, was born 16 weeks premature in August 2010.

A spokeswoman for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which owns the hospital, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Myers told The Associated Press it was filed earlier this month because the Tatarkos “are upset that they weren’t told, and that it occurred, and that they tried to get details and were unsuccessful.”

Among other things, the couple is upset because they believe the Very Rev. Mitred Archpriest George Mitchell “performed an emergency baptism” of Logan while Logan was still in an incubator” and that an unspecified hospital employee allowed the priest “to put holy water” on Logan and to breach the infection-free procedures for his incubator.”

The couple isn’t claiming the child was physically harmed, and Myers confirmed the boy – who will be 2 on Aug. 27 – is healthy.

But Mitchell told the AP the entire thing is a misunderstanding.

The priest said the baby was in a neonatal intensive care unit, so he simply sprinkled some water in a hospital hallway and said an emergency pre-baptismal prayer.

Mitchell said David Tatarko’s mother, one of his parishioners, had asked him to visit Amanda – which he did before and after she gave birth – as well as the baby.

“But I’ve never seen the baby, I’ve never touched the baby,” because, Mitchell said, he wasn’t permitted in the neonatal unit.

“I went to the floor where the baby was on and I read the prayer, and I told (Amanda Tatarko) it was a pre-baptismal prayer that we do in times of emergency,” Mitchell said. “It says it’s the intention of the church at a suitable time to baptize the baby later, especially if the baby is not doing well.”

“I never, in fact, baptized the baby, but when I was explaining it to the mother she got upset and I guess I should have been more specific,” Mitchell said.

The Tatarkos didn’t immediately return a call for comment Friday. Myers, their attorney, declined to specify whether the child has since been baptized and whether the baptism they claim Mitchell performed conflicts with their religious faith or upset them for other reasons.

“ It’s simply that the mother and the dad had this taken from them, the actual process and the ceremony was taken from them unilaterally,” Myers said. The couple is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

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