Speed Reads

what's the difference?

A Catholic priest resigned after getting one word wrong at thousands of baptisms. What's the big deal?

Rev. Andres Arango, a Roman Catholic priest, resigned from his Arizona parish at the beginning of February after it was discovered that he had incorrectly performed thousands of baptisms, using the phrase "we baptize" instead of "I baptize," The New York Times reports.

The consequences don't stop with Arango's resignation. If any children he baptized become priests, they will have to be re-baptized and re-ordained. And since those priests were never truly ordained, they never had the authority to celebrate the Eucharist, forgive sins, or perform confirmations.

That exact situation arose in 2020 when a priest discovered he had been baptized with the same improper phrasing, according to Religion News Service.

This may sound like legalistic quibbling, but the Vatican insists it makes a difference. According to a document approved by Pope Francis, the use of "we" implies that the community of worshippers is doing the baptizing, when actually there is no "we" with that authority. Church teaching holds that when a person baptizes, "it is really Christ Himself" — working through that person — "who baptizes."

Laypeople, non-Catholics, and even non-Christians can perform valid baptisms if they follow the proper formula. The only essential elements are intent to baptize, water, and the words "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

It is also important to note that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says God is "is not bound by his sacraments." It would not be unreasonable for a Catholic to assume that God might look into the heart of someone improperly baptized or given Communion by an invalidly ordained priest and honor that person's desire to receive those sacraments.

But this is not an assumption the Church is free to make. God might not be bound by the sacraments, but the Church is. To paraphrase John Goodman's character in The Big Lebowski, this is not evangelicalism; there are rules.