Like in Arizona, botched baptisms rocked the church in Michigan

DETROIT (AP) — A word caught the ear of a young priest a few years ago when his father shared a video of his baptism in 1990 at a church in suburban Detroit.

“Wait,” Reverend Matthew Hood remembers thinking. “Something doesn’t seem right here.”

Indeed, a mistake by a deacon who said “We baptize” instead of “I baptize” marred Hood’s baptism in the eyes of the Catholic Church – and, like a domino, obliterated his other sacraments and meant that he was not really a priest.

It was perhaps the most significant consequence of a controversy that emerged nearly two years ago at St. Anastasia’s Church in Troy, after the Vatican said that the use of “we” invalidated baptisms in the Catholic faith.

Thousands of Catholics in Arizona recently made headlines when they learned they too may have been misbaptized with the wrong words in a separate but similar case involving popular pastor Reverend Andres Arango. , who resigned on February 1.

In Michigan, Hood was baptized, received other sacraments, and was quickly ordained back to the priesthood within days in 2020. But the Archdiocese of Detroit still hasn’t heard from hundreds of people whose rites at St. Anastasia are considered invalid, despite awareness and publicity efforts.

It immediately sparked confusion and anger when frustrated members of Saint Anastasia questioned why the Catholic Church clung to a single word spoken by a deacon during baptisms in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Why do you think so many people are leaving the Catholic Church?” a woman, who has not been identified, said during a 2020 question-and-answer session with clergy that is posted online. “It’s a great example of why. It’s just awful.

An unidentified man present at the meeting asked a question frequently asked in sticky situations: “What would Jesus do? »

“I think he’d be on the other side here and say that by what you’re doing, you’ve disrupted so many lives, so many people,” the man said.

The archdiocese said Deacon Mark Springer, now retired, performed nearly 800 baptisms at St. Anastasia from 1986 to 1999. After the Vatican decree, local church officials said all were presumed invalid unless there is clear evidence that he did not use the phrase “we baptize”.

It is not the “we” of the congregation that baptizes, but rather the “me” of Jesus Christ, acting through a priest or deacon, that makes a baptism valid, the minister said. Vatican in a global order.

This has caused people in St. Anastasia to scramble to find videos of their children’s baptism, official entry into the church, and a sacrament of gateway to other Catholic rites, such as Holy Communion and even Holy Communion. marriage.

About 200 baptisms have been deemed valid, while 71 people have come forward to undergo baptism and other sacraments of initiation again, archdiocesan spokeswoman Holly Fournier told The Associated Press.

Another 47 people are making new arrangements, she added, but 455 have still not responded. Ten declined to participate.

“We reached out directly, sending letters to everyone involved using the most recent records we had on each individual. … We look forward to accompanying whoever comes forward,” said Fournier.

She declined to make clergy available for interviews to discuss why they believe so many people have not responded over the past 18 months.

At the 2020 St. Anastasia meeting, Bishop Ronald Browne, a church attorney, revealed that officials in 1999 learned that Springer was using “we baptize” and ordered him to stop. But experts who were consulted at the time also said his previous baptisms were still OK.

Then nothing happened for two decades – until Hood asked about what he had heard in his childhood baptism video, and the Vatican separately declared that “we baptize” nullifies the sacrament, Browne said.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Springer told the AP he could not comment, at the request of the archdiocese.

The consequences for Hood went beyond his own baptism and other sacraments, including priestly ordination. He had celebrated about 30 marriages during his first three years as a priest. These couples had to redo their vows.

“I expected them to be angry, upset, confused,” Hood said. “Their reaction was ‘Father Matt, we feel so bad for you.'”

Hood, 31, currently serves Catholic students, particularly around Wayne State University in Detroit. They are about the same age as many young people who have not contacted the church to be baptized a second time.

“The sacraments are the mystery of God that crashes into our lives,” Hood said. “It’s not just a checklist you have to do in a Christian life. It is something that changes us completely.

He said Pope Francis has likened the Catholic Church to a “field hospital” serving people at all stages of their faith.

“We are aware that there are young people who no longer practice the faith. This issue opened this up,” Hood said of the botched baptisms. “But for some people it was an opportunity to say that I didn’t take my faith seriously and it’s an opportunity to do that, to realize that something real is at stake here.”

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