Priest Resigns After Two Decades of Performing 'Invalid' Baptisms

A priest with over two decades' worth of service to multiple congregations has resigned "with a heavy heart" in the wake of revelations that he incorrectly performed baptisms.

Father Andres Arango, who most recently served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, was found to have used the wrong phrasing.

When performing the sacrament, Arango would say, "We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

However, as the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made the diocese aware, the use of the word "we" made the baptisms "invalid." Instead, Arango was supposed to use the phrase "I baptize" rather than "we baptize."

"In the specific case of the sacrament of baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking, for the reasons of a Christological and ecclesiological nature, but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration, because he acts insofar as he is the sign-presence of the same Christ that is enacted in the ritual gesture of the Church," the Congregation said, referring to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

Baptism
A pastor in Phoenix, Arizona was recently found to have wrongly performed "thousands" of baptisms over a 20-year period. Here, a mother holds her baby during a baptism ceremony. Denis Burkin/Getty

Katie Burke, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Phoenix, told Newsweek that while the diocese has no exact number of invalid baptisms Arango performed, the number is "in the thousands."

Thomas Olmsted, bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, wrote a January 14 letter to his congregation informing them of the invalid baptisms. He said it is his responsibility to be "vigilant over the celebration of the sacraments," adding that it is "my duty to ensure that the sacraments are conferred in a manner" consistent with the Gospel and the tradition's requirements.

"I do not believe Father Andres had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments," Olmsted said in the letter. "On behalf of our local church, I too am sincerely sorry that this error has resulted in disruption to the sacramental lives of a number of the faithful. This is why I pledge to take every step necessary to remedy the situation for everyone impacted."

That has included offering diocese members with information regarding the background of the situation, as well as the ability to schedule another baptism so parishioners are assured the sacrament is valid.

"It may seem legalistic, but the words that are spoken, along with the actions that are performed and the materials used, are a crucial aspect of every sacrament," the diocese said on its website. "If you change the words, actions or materials required in any of the sacraments, they are not valid."

They cited the example of using milk instead of wine during the consecration of the Eucharist—the ceremony commemorating the Last Supper, in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed.

Olmsted and other personnel, including Arango, pledged to meet with members who may be troubled by the fact that their baptisms, whether performed recently or many years ago, were not actually authentic.

"I ask that you join me in praying for Father Andres and for all of those who are going to be impacted by this unfortunate situation," he wrote. "I pledge to work diligently and swiftly to bring peace to those who have been affected, and I assure you that I and our diocesan staff are wholeheartedly committed to assisting those who have questions about their reception of the sacraments."

Burke told Newsweek that Father Paul Sullivan has since stepped in as administrator pro-tem at St. Gregory Parish.

Baptisms are already occurring for some families that have been affected, she added.

"The affected parishes were prepared to address the needs of their people in advance, so baptisms began not long after people were notified of invalid baptisms," Burke told Newsweek. "Because they are currently ongoing, we do not have an exact number at this point."

Arango, formerly of the Eudist community, served in Salvador, Brazil, from 1995 to 2000. He then served at the Diocese of San Diego between 2001 and 2005. He had been part of the Diocese of Phoenix from September 2005 until February 1, when his resignation became effective.

"It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula," Arango said in his farewell letter. "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."

Such situations are not entirely uncommon.

According to weekly Christian publication American Magazine, an Oklahoma man who believed he was rightfully ordained as a Catholic priest later discovered he was also invalidly baptized because of the same incorrect verbiage of "We" after watching his own infant baptism as an adult.

The same situation occurred to Father Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan, who had to receive the sacrament of baptism—as well as other sacraments—again as an adult.

Burke said Arango has not disqualified himself from his vocation or ministry and "remains a priest in good standing." He has regular communication with Diocesan leadership.