The rite of baptism in the Roman Catholic Church is clear: the priest must say, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
But a priest in Phoenix, Arizona has been saying, “We baptise you…” throughout his decades-long ministry, and the Roman Catholic Church has determined that all those baptised by Fr Andres Arango are therefore not validly baptised. And since there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, they are therefore damned (quite literally), and they can only be saved if they are baptised (not re-baptised) by a priest using the correct pronoun.
“It is with sincere pastoral concern that I inform the faithful that baptisms performed by Reverend Andres Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, are invalid,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted said in a letter, adding that the news was “as difficult to hear as it is challenging for me to announce”.
“The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptises a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” the Bishop explained.
“It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” Fr Arango said. “I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere. With the help of the Holy Spirit and in communion with the Diocese of Phoenix I will dedicate my energy and full-time ministry to help remedy this and heal those affected. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my actions have caused and genuinely ask for your prayers, forgiveness, and understanding.”
“Baptism is a requirement for salvation,” the Diocese of Phoenix reminded people, “recounting Christ’s institution of the sacrament and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
“It may seem legalistic, but the words that are spoken (the sacramental form), along with the actions that are performed and the materials used (the sacramental matter) are a crucial aspect of every sacrament,” they added.
“As a priest may not substitute milk for wine during the Consecration of the Eucharist, nor may he change the words of baptism,” the Catholic News Agency explained. Any yet:
At the same time, the diocese sought to explain that God’s grace still can work if the sacraments were not validly administered.
“It is important to note that, while God instituted the sacraments for us, He is not bound by them,” the diocese said, reiterating Catholic sacramental theology. “Though they are our surest access to grace, God can grant His grace in ways known only to Him.”
Catholics can be certain that God works through the sacraments when properly conferred, but “we can be assured that all who approached God, our Father, in good faith to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed,” the diocese said.
So, no problem then?
“The real problem is that the Vatican is treating the traditional words of baptism like a computer password,” suggested Thomas Reese of the Religion News Service. He adds:
The Archdiocese of Detroit has made the best of a bad situation, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith needs to pull this ruling. It was a mistake and a pastoral catastrophe. It would have been better to declare the formula illicit but valid.
..When the Vatican makes mistakes, it is often because it wants to project an image of being all-knowing and all-wise and therefore not in need of advice. By not getting input, the congregation made a mistake that hurt its credibility. By not practicing the synodality so ardently encouraged by Pope Francis, the congregation has thrown the church into chaos. The church should not act like a computer; it should act like Christ.
And yet every priest knows that baptism is necessary for salvation, so it indeed functions as a kind of password: ‘Believe and be baptised’, is the exhortation. ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved‘ (Mk 16:16). But it continues: ‘..but he that believeth not shall be damned‘; not ..’he that is not baptised shall be damned.’
And Jesus said to thief hanging next to him on the cross: ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.‘ He didn’t say, ‘Sorry, you can’t join me in paradise because you aren’t baptised.’
Words have power, of course: a sacrament is a sacrament, and a sacrament is a sign, and for the sacrament to be the right sign, it must use the right words. But did John the Baptist use the right pronouns when he baptised people?
If the heart is sincere and the intention right, the grace of God flows: God is bigger than an incompetent priest, and there is forgiveness for Andres Arango.
The Vatican is right to say that their priest didn’t follow the letter of the rite, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is quite wrong to call these baptisms ‘invalid’, no doubt causing consternation to many hundreds, because the Spirit transcends the ritualistic letter. Christ does not damn people over pronouns: “..the Church of Rome hath erred’ (again).