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How one priest’s mistake led to over 20 years of invalid baptisms


Josh Applegate | Unsplash CC0

J-P Mauro - published on 02/10/22

Invalid baptisms also invalidate subsequently received sacraments such as confirmation and possibly marriage.

A priest from the Diocese of Phoenix, Fr. Andres Arango, has resigned from his pastorship after he was found to have botched baptisms for over 20 years. Now Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead has declared that all baptisms performed by Arango are invalid, which would further invalidate some of the subsequently received sacraments by the unbaptized. 

Ordained in 1995

After attending seminary in Salvador, Brazil, Fr. Arango was ordained in 1995. Over the next 27 years the Eudist priest held various positions as a cleric in Brazil and the United States. These include pastor, teacher, parochial administrator and director of the San Diego State University Newman Center. 

The problems arose when it was found that Fr. Arango was using the incorrect formula for baptism. He would say “We baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Diocese explained

The word in question is the use of “we” in place of “I.” 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. 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.

Invalid sacraments

One of the most troubling aspects of this scenario is the way an invalid baptism affects the other sacraments. Aleteia spoke with Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, a canon and civil lawyer as well as professor of canon law at the Dominican House of Studies, who explained: 

“Baptism is the entryway into the Church; without baptism one isn’t a Christian. Because it’s the first sacrament, it’s necessary for all the other sacraments. So if they’ve attempted other sacraments like confirmation or marriage, those are invalid. So twenty years of the sacramental life of hundreds of people have been invalidated due to gross pastoral negligence.”

First Communion

On the Diocese of Phoenix website, where they have set up a FAQ page for information on the situation, they note that First Communion is not technically invalid without a baptism. There can only be one “First Communion,” so if you have received the Eucharist, even when unbaptized, you have received Holy Communion. They do, however, warn the faithful not to continue to receive Holy Communion until they are baptized.

Confirmation and marriage

On the confirmation side, things are not so simple. The sacrament of confirmation requires a valid baptism. Therefore, anyone whose baptism was found to be invalid must remake the sacrament. This could also be true for marriages, but the diocese admits that “there are many variables when it comes to valid marriages.” They have stated that questions of marriages performed after an invalid baptism will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. 

The diocese also instructs that those whose baptisms have been invalidated do not necessarily need to go to confession. As the fault does not fall anywhere near the faithful for this mistake, there is nothing to absolve. Furthermore, the diocese noted that once they receive a valid baptism, their sins are wiped clean. 

Fr. Arango’s new mission

While Fr. Arango has resigned as the pastor of his parish, he is still considered a priest in good standing with the church. He is working closely with the diocese to identify all those for whom he performed invalid baptisms.

In a letter of apology, provided by the Diocese of Phoenix, he 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. 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.”

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