Thousands of baptisms may be invalid because Phoenix priest used the wrong phrase
Thousands of Phoenix area Catholics are finding out their baptisms, a foundational rite in the Catholic church, may be invalid. That in turn could affect other sacraments they have received.
The problem results from a priest using the wrong phrasing. The issue arose because Father Andres Arango said “we baptize” instead of “I baptize.”
According to the Diocese of Phoenix, that violates the rules issued by the Catholic Church. Baptism is considered the foundation for the other six sacraments in the Church.
According to Tim O’Malley, the academic director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, this has happened before,
"Now there's records of what was said. There's recordings. It gets out, it gets on the internet. People hear about it," said O’Malley. "So, I think this is something the church is going to have to discuss, how to govern the sacraments in a digital era."
Arango has been a priest since 1995 and served in several parishes. He was the pastor of the St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix. Before coming to Arizona in 2005, he served in San Diego and Brazil.
He used the unapproved wording until he was notified last year.
“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,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted wrote in a mid-January message on the diocese’s site.
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.
Kevin Eckery, director of external and community relations at the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, said the diocese there told people who think they might have been baptized by Arango to talk with their parish priest, check their baptism certificate and get baptized again if they fear theirs was invalid.
“It’s relatively easy to fix it. The parish priest can take care of this quickly — if they want to be re-baptized, they can be,” Eckery said.
In an undated note on the Phoenix diocese's website, Arango wrote: "It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula. I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere.”
There have been similar cases elsewhere in the past.
In Detroit, church officials in 2020 said a deacon used the wrong words while baptizing people from 1986 to 1999.
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.
The archdiocese said marriages performed by Hood might not be valid and urged couples to speak to their pastor as soon as possible “so any steps can be taken to remedy your marital status in the church, if necessary.”
Hood was baptized again and ordained as a priest a second time.
That same year 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.
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.
Burke said the diocese was not aware of any seminarians, deacons, or priests who were invalidly baptized by Arango.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct Tim O’Malley's position at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.