Catholic Church

A Priest Switched a Single Word. The Repercussions Are Enormous

The Rev. Andres Arango changed the wording of the rite of baptism

A priest performing a baptism
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An Arizona priest, the Rev. Andres Arango, switched just one word in the thousands of baptisms he performed, and now the Catholic church says the slip made the rite invalid.

As a pastor, Arango said, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” He should have said, “I.”

The single error was massive, Catholic officials say. 

“The issue with using “We” is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted says in a message to the parishioners of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Phoenix.

The words and actions of a rite matter, the Diocese of Phoenix says. For example, during the consecration of the Eucharist, when Catholics believe that wine becomes the blood of Christ, a priest cannot use milk instead, it says.

“The milk would not become the Blood of Jesus Christ,” it says.

The baptisms will need to be redone and that’s not all. Because baptism is the basis of becoming a Christian, confirmation and some other sacraments of the Catholic church also will need to be repeated, the diocese says. If your baptism is invalid, your confirmation also is invalid.

Does this affect marriages?

“Maybe!” the diocese says. “Unfortunately, there is no single clear answer. There are a number of variables when it comes to valid marriages.”

It is directing parishioners to a tribunal that will help them sort through the complicate questions.

First Holy Communions remain valid, though the diocese reminds anyone who was improperly baptized to hold off receiving the Eucharist until they have been baptized properly.

“I do not believe Fr. Andres had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments,” Olmsted said.

For his part, Arango has resigned as pastor of St. Gregory Catholic Church as of Feb. 1 and is devoting his time to helping those he baptized improperly.

“It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” Arango says in a message. “I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere.”

Arango, a pastor since 1998, previously served in churches in Brazil and elsewhere in Phoenix and as the director of the San Diego State University Newman Center. 

“I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my actions have caused and genuinely ask for your prayers, forgiveness, and understanding,” he says.

The diocese says on its website that such mistakes have happened before in the history of the Church. It consulted with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about what to do about Arango's improper baptisms.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last year warned against changing the words of the baptism ritual in a misguided attempt to include parents and other relatives and emphasize its significance to the community.

To the question of whether the word “We” can be used, it answered: “Negative.”

Arrango remains a priest in good standing. A petition in favor of his remaining as pastor praised him for reinvigorating the parish, renovating the facilities, and teaching the children of St. Gregory Catholic School the meaning of faith, community and fellowship. The community loves and cares for him, it says.

“St Gregory's community will never be the same without him,” it reads.

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