I first heard about the ‘we baptize you’ issue when I read about the story of Fr. Matthew Hood, a priest who realized after several years of ministry that he was invalidly baptized (the Deacon using the improper ‘we baptize you’ instead of the approved ‘I baptize you’) and thus was not even a Catholic, much less a Catholic priest.
While Sacramental abuses are nothing new, it never occurred to me to think what would happen if a priest’s own Baptism was invalid. The ramifications of such a situation would be, and are, astonishing.
In such a scenario many would be making their spiritual journey with the false pretense that they were baptized into God’s Mystical Body, cleansed from the stains of Original Sin, and inducted as members into the Church Christ founded. Those are some of the gifts bestowed on us at Baptism, and if the incorrect formula is used then that Baptism, along with its gifts, does not take root.
Priests like Fr. Hood, who probably never even thought up until this point to question the validity of their Baptism, may also end up suffering with vocational and potentially existential dread upon the realization that they did not actually receive or bestow the Sacramental graces they thought they were receiving or bestowing.
We should not forget Fr. Hood’s parishioners either, who believed that they received certain Sacraments from him when they actually didn’t. For example, absolution within the Sacrament of Penance can only be given by a priest or bishop. The grace of spiritual healing received in the Annointing of the Sick cannot be given by someone who is not ordained. And what about the Eucharist? Not just one’s first Communion, but every single time someone went up to receive the Eucharist from Fr. Hood, they received nothing but bread and wine because Fr. Hood could not actually consecrate them into Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The parishioners literally worshiped mere bread and wine as if they were God, and thus committed idolatry (Yes it is true that they committed the sin unknowingly and unwillfully, but still…they committed it).
This is not the worst-case scenario, though. Fr. Hood’s parishioners, at least, all had valid baptisms because it is not necessary to receive Baptism from an ordained minister in order for it to be valid (under extraordinary form); so long as water and the proper Trinitarian formula is used, the Baptism is valid.
Fr. Andres Arango’s parishioners, however, did experience the worst-case scenario.
Every Baptism he performed over several decades was invalid because he did not use the proper formula. And because Baptism is the gateway to all of the other Sacraments, any attempts that the parishioners made to receive those would also be invalid. Confirmation, Matrimony, Ordination, all of these Sacraments, as well as the ones mentioned above, are (or for Marriage might be) invalid if Baptism is invalid.
As horrible as those situations are, it is not what is most concerning. No, the worst part is that this may be a more wide-ranging problem than we are aware of or give credit for.
Using Fr. Hood as an example, his invalid Baptism caused problems not just for himself during his short time–a few years–in ministry, but for the hundreds or even thousands of parishioners he ministered to during the thousands of times he falsely believed he was conferring to them any given Sacrament.
And he is just one person; one person, one invalid baptism, thousands of problems. How many other people were invalidly baptized by the Deacon who invalidly baptized Fr. Hood? If one person’s invalid baptism can affect so many people, then what about hundreds, even thousands, of them? How far does this web expand?
Or what about Fr. Arango, who went decades using the same ‘we-baptize-you’ formula? Many of those he invalidly baptized moved out of state or country and changed their contact information. The diocese is doing their best to contact all those afflicted, but is it reasonable to think they will be able to reach out to all of them? Most of them?
All of this is to say that this is a truly frightening dilemma that might be more extensive than we know, particularly because of how easy it is for such a problem to occur (‘I’ instead of ‘We’) and how quickly such a problem can mutate into an even bigger problem.
There must be an earnestness with which we treat situations like Fr. Hood’s and Fr. Arango’s. Exhaustive investigations should be made whenever a parish, ordained minister, or the like is found to be the source of Sacramental abuse. Details such as how long it has been occurring and how many people were affected must be uncovered. Action plans must be created explaining what will be done to rectify it. And, perhaps most importantly, regulations need to be implemented to ensure it does not happen again.
If these measures were already in place then it is very possible, if not likely, that the above violations would never have developed, or at least they would have been snuffed out earlier than they actually were. It is difficult for me to accept that a comprehensive accountability system was in place when both abuses went unnoticed for decades. It requires an even stronger suspension of belief to think that such abuses are limited to these two cases.
This needs to be addressed throughout the Church universal for no other reason than this: our faith is a Sacramental faith, our Church a Sacramental Church. Christ established the Sacraments as the normal means of bestowing grace. The Body of Christ has grown throughout the world as a result of these “'powers that comes forth' from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. [Sacraments] are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are 'the masterworks of God' in the new and everlasting covenant” (CCC 1116). Abuses of these ‘powers’ and ‘masterworks’, then, whether intentional or not, is a corruption of the very foundation of our faith.
Pray for Fr. Hood and Fr. Arango. Pray for their parishioners. Pray for all those who wrongly and unknowingly think they have received the Sacraments.