PHOENIX - In a unique situation for people of the Roman Catholic faith, a priest is resigning after the church's Phoenix Diocese determined the words he was using during baptisms are wrong, meaning those baptisms are now rendered invalid.
Here's what you should know about the mix-up.
So, what happened?
In a statement released by officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, it was announced that all baptisms performed by a priest named Andres Arango until June 17, 2021 are presumed to be invalid due to the words that were used.
At the center of the mix-up are the words "we" and "I." Diocesan officials say Arango should have used the following words during baptism:
Instead, diocesan officials say Arango used the following words:
Diocesan officials said baptisms performed by Arango after June 17, 2021 are presumed to be valid.
In a letter to faithfuls, Phoenix Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted said the determination that baptisms performed by Arango are invalid was made "after careful study by diocesan officials and through consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome."
Why can't they use "we"?
The Vatican in June 2020 issued the guidance declaring that the formula "We baptize you..." was invalid and that anyone who was baptized using it must be re-baptized using the proper formula.
The Holy See said it was taking action because some unnamed priests were using the "We" formula to make the baptism more of a communal affair involving parents, godparents and the community in welcoming a new member into the Catholic Church.
So, what's the big deal?
Diocesan officials say the word change made a big difference for them.
"It is not the community that baptizes a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments; therefore, it is Christ who baptizes," diocesan officials said, on their website. "The Baptismal Formula (the words used in the Rite) has always been guarded for this reason: so it is clear that we receive our baptism through Jesus and not the community."
"In the case of baptism, it brings the child into the community of Catholicism. The argument is because the wrong words were said, that thing didn’t happen. The ritual didn’t do the work it was meant to do," said Catherine O'Donnell, a history professor with Arizona State University.
In simpler terms, diocesan officials say sacraments are rendered invalid if words, actions, or materials required were changed.
"For example, if a priest uses milk instead of wine during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the sacrament is not valid. The milk would not become the Blood of Jesus Christ," read a portion of the diocese's website.
Where did Arango work?
Diocesan officials say Arango worked at various Phoenix area parishes, starting in September 2005. Prior to that, Arango worked at worked in San Diego, Calif., and Salvador, a city located in Brazil's Bahia state.
According to records from the diocese, from September 2005 to February 2013, Arango worked at the pastor for the St. Jerome parish in Phoenix. He also served as the parochial vicar at Gilbert's St. Anne parish from March 2013 to June 2015, and served as parochial administrator at Phoenix's St. Gregory parish from July 2015 to March 2017.
From April 2017, records from the diocese show he worked as pastor for the same parish in Phoenix.
Why did Arango do this?
In his letter, Bishop Olmsted said he does not believe that Arango had "any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments."
In a separate letter to people in his now-former parish, Arango said he is saddened to learn that he performed invalid baptisms by using an "incorrect formula."
"I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere," Arango wrote.
How did the diocese find out?
Katie Burke, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Phoenix, said rank-and-file Catholics brought the issue of Arango’s baptisms to the attention of the church.
"Likely, the people who heard it happen in Phoenix were aware of these other stories and therefore knew the phrasing to be incorrect," Burke said.
What's going to happen with Arango?
Arango, according to diocesan officials, stepped down as pastor of the St. Gregory Parish on Feb. 1, 2022.
"He has not disqualified himself from his vocation and ministry, but, with the help of the Holy Spirit and in communion with diocesan leadership, he will dedicate his energy and full-time ministry to helping and healing those who were invalidly baptized. He remains a priest in good standing," diocesan officials said, on their website.
What does this mix-up mean for those baptized by Arango?
Diocesan officials said those who received an invalid baptism may have to repeat confirmation and/or the Eucharist, which, along with baptisms, are known as the three 'sacraments of initiation.'
In addition, diocesan officials say those who have not been validly baptized cannot take communion, as that is reserved for the baptized.
Diocesan officials also say marriages could be affected.
While diocesan officials say marriages could be affected, they also say there is no single clear answer.
"There are a number of variables when it comes to valid marriages, and the Tribunal is here to help," read the diocese's website.
"There is a tremendous amount of institutional cleanup that would need to happen for the parishioners who want to understand themselves as fully in communion with the church," said O'Donnell.
I was baptized by Arango. What should I do?
Diocesan officials said they are working with Arango, as well as the parishes he was previously assigned to, in order to notify anyone who may have been baptized in an invalid manner.
"Pastors are aware of the situation, and you should be able to schedule a baptism as needed," read the diocese's website.
Those who are no longer within the borders of the Diocese of Phoenix will be able to obtain a letter, which they can bring to their pastor to help explain the situation when scheduling a baptism or other sacraments that are needed.
Diocesan officials also say people can also check baptismal certificates, along with photos or videos of the baptism event, to see if they or their children were baptized by Arango.
On their website, diocesan officials included a form in which people affected by the invalid baptisms can fill out.
Has this happened elsewhere?
In Detroit, church officials in 2020 said a deacon used the wrong words while baptizing people from 1986 to 1999.
According to the Associated Press, the most dramatic consequence in that case involved a priest who was baptized by the deacon as a boy: Because the baptism was invalid, so was the 2017 priestly ordination of the Rev. Matthew Hood, who discovered the wrong words while watching a video of his childhood baptism, the archdiocese said.
While Hood was baptized, given other sacraments and swiftly ordained again to the priesthood within days in 2020, the Archdiocese of Detroit still hasn’t heard from hundreds of people whose rites at St. Anastasia are considered invalid, despite outreach efforts and publicity.
The consequences for Hood went beyond his own baptism and other sacraments, including priestly ordination. He had officiated at roughly 30 marriages during his initial three years as a priest. Those couples had to make their vows again.
That same year in Oklahoma, a new priest, the Rev. Zachary Boazman, learned that his baptism was invalid as well.
Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley subsequently validated the marriages performed by Boazman, who was baptized and ordained again.
Burke said the diocese was not aware of any seminarians, deacons, or priests who were invalidly baptized by Arango.
What are people saying about the botched baptisms?
According to the AP, the incident with Hood caused confusion and anger, as frustrated people wondered why the Catholic Church was hung up on a single word expressed by a deacon during baptisms in the 1980s and ’90s.
"Why do you think so many people are leaving the Catholic Church?" a woman, who wasn’t identified, said during a 2020 question-and-answer session with clergy that was posted online. "This is a great example why. This is just awful."
An unidentified man at the meeting posed a question commonly asked in thorny situations: "What would Jesus do?"
"I think he would be on a different side here and say by what you’re doing you have disrupted so many lives, so many people," the man said.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
Phoenix Catholic Diocese website on the invalid baptisms
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