Your Thoughts on Invalid Baptisms, Part One

In early February, the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, said the baptisms performed by Fr. Andres Arango during the years of ministry in the diocese are disabled, and the priest resigned as pastor of a local parish. According to a 2020 instruction from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, baptisms were invalid because the priest said “We baptize” instead of “I baptize.”

In a similar case in Michigan in 2020, Fr. Matthew Hood was rebaptized, received other sacraments, and was quickly ordained back to the priesthood within days because his own initial baptism was declared invalid. But the Archdiocese of Detroit still hasn’t heard from hundreds of people whose rites were previously performed by Hood and are now considered invalid, despite awareness efforts and publicity.

Below are letters to the editor from NCR readers regarding invalid baptisms. Letters have been edited for length and clarity.


It’s one of the most ridiculous, hurtful and misinterpreted acts I’ve ever heard. The church is the people of God. Christ is the model for these people. The priest is no more Christ than this people of God.

To invalidate a sacrament because of the use of “we” as opposed to “I” is ridiculous. The priest or the bishop who has declared these baptisms invalid is much too full of himself.

MARIE SCHMIDT
Oak Park, Illinois

***

Has the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, lost his mind? Another embarrassing subject to make Catholics look crazy. What would Jesus say about baptism not being valid because the poor priest said we and not me? It is fundamentalism and self-righteous thinking that Jesus condemned.

Unfortunately, it’s all over the news. Who denounced the priest? I have always been taught that it is the intention and not the words that count. So now those who have been baptized by Fr. Andres Arango must be withheld from the Eucharist until he is properly baptized. It makes me so sad and angry that we are a laughing stock again.

I have read the 2020 Vatican statement. I wonder if Pope Francis is aware of this incident and if he endorses what has been released. I rather doubt it.

SUSANNA JONES
New Smyrna Beach, Florida

***

If the Vatican people are still so mired in traditionalism that they believe a baptism is invalid if the minister says “we baptize” rather than “I baptize,” what hope is there for real change? What do they think? Are the words for baptism some kind of magic formula?

Ironically, according to Catholic teaching, if the worst sexual predator or vicious murderer says the right words, baptism is valid (ex opere operantis), but if a saint says “we” instead of “I”, while fully intending what Christ and the church mean by baptism, the sacrament does not take place. It’s beyond nuts!

FRANK MANNING
Edmund, Oklahoma

***

A very discouraged young man attended the same regional synod meeting as I did a few days ago. Disheartened by the church, he recounted “that priest” who did all the baptisms wrong and felt that, as further evidence, the post-Vatican II church is off track.

The invalid baptisms story made the Cincinnati news a day or two later, so I’m sure the topic was, by that mark, over-massed from NPR to Fox News – but not NCR?

Yet nowhere have I seen anyone address – or ask – whether or not the Catholic Church is probing the wording used in baptismal rites administered in non-Catholic churches – baptisms we accept as valid when a non -Catholic seeks to enter the church.

RITA HESSLEY
Cincinnati, Ohio

***

Regarding the supposed “invalid baptisms” in the Diocese of Phoenix, does intention mean nothing to God? Would God really reject a baptism that did not use specific “magic words”? Is it really important to use “we” instead of “I”?

When the Pope uses “we” in his speech, does he mean that there are in fact several versions of himself? Do the faithful not understand that the pope means “we” as including the pope, the priests and bishops and the Church as a whole, as well as Jesus who is represented by the pope, the priests and the bishops? Doesn’t God understand that?

If using “we” invalidates a baptism (and some later sacraments), why wouldn’t using English also invalidate a baptism, since the first baptisms were surely not performed in English?

After the recent scandals in the church over child sexual abuse, this concern about using one word rather than another word that could mean virtually the same thing seems very silly at best. Insulting at worst.

Bishops: Please start getting worked up about things that really matter. We will all be better off.

FRANCIS J. CONSTANTINE
Erie, Pennsylvania

***

Regarding the recent incident in Arizona in which Fr. Andres Arango was censured for using the word “we” in his baptismal ceremonies instead of the approved “I” and the ensuing furor over the validity of additional sacraments received afterwards. If asked, Jesus could glare at the Pharisaic diocesan enforcers and point out as he did to Peter in Mark 8:22-35, “Go back, Satan. You think , not as God does, but as human beings.” He might accuse them of putting stumbling blocks before [those] who believe in him (Matthew 18:6-16).

On the other hand, he could stoop down and write in the dust in front of them (John 8:6), which gave them the opportunity to reflect on times when they themselves might have changed a word or two or omitted a part of the writing while presiding over a liturgy. Or he might suggest that they remember a story like the apostles eating ears of corn on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) or the one in which they are caught not washing their hands. properly before eating (Mark 7:1-14).

In the end, it all comes down to the true nature of Arango’s sacred endeavor. His intention was obviously valid. Why make a big deal out of it? Is there no one to defend him?

MARIE DEAN LESHER
Grand Junction, Colorado

***

Scenario: A person confesses and confesses a mortal sin. The priest who gives absolution is the recipient of an invalid baptism. The person receiving the absolution is deceased and therefore cannot re-confess. Did the person go to heaven, and if not, what happened to their soul?

I am so upset by the Vatican ruling on invalid baptisms. Does the pope realize the chaos this is causing – and on some pronouns? I think Jesus is appalled at the sheer stupidity of this decision. What happened to the practice of applying the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law? Throwing the whole world into such confusion, uncertainty and doubt is inadmissible.

I understand the distinction between the “we” and “I” controversy, but I think God/Jesus wouldn’t want all this upheaval about it. Doesn’t the Vatican have anything more worthy of concern? They are on this debacle with such immediacy. Why was the problem of child abuse not solved so quickly? Sometimes I wonder if anyone in the Vatican has any common sense.

BRENDA ROBINSON
St. Paul, Minnesota


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