A Catholic priest in Arizona resigned in early February after thousands of baptisms under his 26-year watch were considered invalid due to the usage of one incorrect word.
His mistake has sparked a viral response from the Catholic community, especially those who were baptized under the former priest.
The wrong word
Father Andres Arango resigned as a pastor with the Diocese of Phoenix when several people overheard an alteration to the incantation used during the sacrament.
“We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
According to the Vatican, the epicenter of Catholicism, the usage of “we” in the sacrament is wrong. Instead, he should have said, “I,” as in, “I baptize you…”
Bishop of Phoenix Thomas J. Olmstead discussed the issue with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Bishop Olmstead found that Father Arango’s baptisms were invalid. Father Arango had given baptisms in Phoenix, San Diego, and Brazil.
Bishop Olmstead explained that using ‘we’ suggests that the baptisms come from the community, instead of Christ alone.
“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,” Bishop Olmstead said.
“Father Arango was using the incorrect words from the beginning of his priesthood until it was brought to the attention of the diocese last summer,” said diocese spokeswoman Katie Burke. “I do not have the exact number of people baptized between 1995 and 2021, but I believe they number in the thousands.”
Father Arango had previously worked as a pastor in Brazil and became a director of the San Diego State University Newman Center. He then joined the St. Gregory church in 2017, working at other places of worship in Arizona.
When Father Arango learned that he had wrongly performed baptisms for 26 years, he was heartbroken.
“It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” Father Arango said. “I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere.”
“With the help of the Holy Spirit and in communion with the Diocese of Phoenix, I will dedicate my energy and full time ministry to help remedy this and heal those affected.”
Bishop Olmstead understood that Father Arango did not intentionally make the mistake and expressed his apologies for the situation.
“The diocese is working closely with Father Arango and the parishes at which he was previously assigned to notify and make arrangements to baptize anyone who may have been baptized invalidly,” said Burke.
Despite the mistake, Father Arango remains “a priest in good standing,” the Diocese said.
To help assure those who had been “baptized invalidly,” the diocese prepared an FAQ to answer the questions parishioners may have. It also said that it will work with those affected.
The Vatican’s note
In 2020, the Vatican released a doctoral note stating that baptisms using the word ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ were invalid.
Rev. Thomas Reeve is a political scientist and journalist who writes about the Church. He said that before the note, Catholic priests were more lenient with what they say during sacraments. When the Vatican released the note outlining the rules, Reeve believed that the Church would “cause chaos.”
“The hierarchy wants priests to follow the words in sacramental ceremonies very strictly,” Reeve said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The bottom line, historically the words of baptism have changed. To make suddenly a big deal of whether a priest uses “I” or “we” is mind-boggling.”
Reeve also expressed his concerns that there could be thousands of people affected. Ultimately, he feels that God would graciously give them His blessing, even if using the wrong word.