Faith

Pastor’s Error Leaves Thousands of Baptisms Invalid

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Here’s a strange one for you: An Arizona pastor’s single-word error is apparently enough to turn baptisms invalid.

Imagine the story: You reach out to your clergyman for about baptism. You prayed the necessary prayer. You accept Christ into your heart and you’re ready to follow Him. Then you experience the big moment of baptism. You feel you belong to the church body, you feel a genuine connection to God in a way you haven’t before. But then, you learn your clergyman used a wrong word leaving thousands of baptisms invalid.

It may sound ridiculous to you. It definitely sounds that way to me.

But it happened in Arizona and has caused “confusion and anxiety for thousands of Catholics in the Phoenix area,” the Associated Press reported.

The priest actually resigned his post after learning he used the wrong word during baptism ceremonies for years.

What’s the word? You better sit down for this one.

Here’s what he said during the baptisms: “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Is there anything that jumps out at you as wrong with that statement?

The Vatican certainly thinks so. They’ve instructed priests to say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

He said we when he should have said I.

Ask yourself why that could possibly make a difference in a baptism.

To me, this kind of hyper-legalism is a turnoff when it comes to church. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not out to bash Catholicism. But one misspoken word shouldn’t “invalidate” the baptisms of those who were attempting to follow the laws of their faith. It was the priest’s error, not theirs.

But wait there’s more! I’m not able to tell for sure whether we’re talking solely about infant baptisms or baptisms conducted on those who are older. But at least one article mentions that baptism is the first in a series of holy sacraments the Catholic faith requires. If church authorities deem the baptism “invalid,” that means all of the sacraments that followed the baptism must also be invalid.

That, in turn, means that all who went through an invalid baptism must then repeat any sacraments from the beginning.

Then there’s this: The Guardian reported that “some churchgoers could find their marriages are not recognized.” They cite this quote from the Diocese of Phoenix’s website:

“An invalid baptism … invalidates any subsequent sacraments, especially confirmation, marriage, and holy orders.”

Marriages? Invalid? Over a single word?

Here’s why the Vatican said ‘I’ vs. ‘We’ thing matters

In 2020, the Vatican released answers to two critical questions on this very topic.

The first question was, “Whether the Baptism conferred with the formula “ We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is valid?”

The second question was, “Whether those persons for whom baptism was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta?”

Pope Francis, according to the document, approved the answers.

The answer to the first question was “negative,” meaning the Vatican considers baptisms using the word “we” are invalid. His answer to the second question was “affirmative,” meaning those baptisms (and presumably any holy sacraments following it) must be repeated.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix explained the difference this way:

The issue with using “We” is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes.

But Christ is presiding over the sacrament, then, through the priest. The priest is allowing Christ to work directly through him. The priest is still present at the sacrament. The community — family, friends, the congregation — attending the event is also part of the moment. I presume none of them voluntarily attend the event hoping the baptism won’t happen.

So while Christ directly presides over the moment, it involves and requires the presence of at least one other person.

Maybe that strikes you as a pointless battle of semantics. If it does, you should know that this is exactly how this controversy making thousands of baptisms invalid strikes me.

It’s unfair to those who have been baptized over apparently the past 20 years to suddenly learn that because of a single word, their baptism “isn’t valid.” Are we to believe that Christ was somehow “prevented” from entering their heart because of a single word? If so, Christ doesn’t sound all that powerful to me.

It’s even more unfair to rock the foundations of people’s marriages because of such an error. Now you’re hurting not only the innocent person who received baptism but now others, perhaps entire families.

The diocese seems to indicate it believes the priest in question didn’t use the wrong word intentionally.

Yet the punishment seems to be going to the innocent victims here.

Yes, the Vatican addressed this in 2020. But did they address it 20 years ago as clearly? And even if they did, should there not be a way to protect those who were injured by a priest’s mistake?

Ask those who now have an “invalid” baptism if they ever felt any less connected to God for all those years. I think God’s presence in one’s life is too personal a think to determine its validity based on a single verbal flub.

I think this is a good example of religious legalism going too far.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.