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File photo of a child being baptised Shutterstock/Ruslan Lytvyn
we vs i

Declaring thousands of baptisms in US invalid due to word error 'over the top', Irish priest says

Thousands of Catholics in the US and Brazil may have to be re-baptised because the priest in question said ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.

AN IRISH PRIEST has said the declaration of thousands of baptisms in the US and Brazil as invalid because the priest in question used the word ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ is “over the top” and takes “a purely legalistic view” of the sacrament.

Thousands of Catholics in the US and Brazil may have to be re-baptised after it was discovered a priest had gotten one word wrong in the blessing for decades — invalidating the rite.

For 26 years, Fr Andres Arango had been performing the first sacrament of Catholic life with the words, ‘We baptise you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, instead of the Vatican-sanctioned ‘I baptise you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.

The ‘I’ references Jesus, not the priest.

It is believed that thousands of people are affected by the issue, casting doubt over the validity of their confirmations and marriages. If a person’s baptism is deemed invalid, later sacraments they received may also be invalidated.

The Very Reverend Tim Hazelwood of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland said the decision to deem thousands of baptisms as invalid over the use of one incorrect word is “taking a purely legalistic view of baptism” and ignoring the spiritual side of the sacrament.

“[Arango's] ordination was valid, I think it’s an taking an extremely legalistic view of the whole thing. This has caused upset for so many people,” Hazelwood told The Journal.

He said he is “not advocating that wording should be changed” but, as was the case here, using the term ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ should not invalidate thousands of baptisms.

Hazelwood, a parish priest in Killeagh in Co Cork, noted that priests will “mistakenly say a wrong word here or there” and this should not invalidate sacraments.

“If that was the case, we couldn’t open our mouths, we’d be terrified to say anything,” he said.

Arango’s error was identified in mid-2021, a quarter of a century after he began working as a priest, but made headlines in recent days.

An investigation has determined that the priest had failed to baptise validly over his 26 years of service in Brazil, the Diocese of San Diego, and most recently the Diocese of Phoenix in Arizona.

Arango has apologised and resigned as parish pastor in St Gregory parish in Phoenix.

In a message to his parishioners, Arango said: “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.”

Phoenix’s diocesan spokeswoman Katie Burke said on Tuesday that Arango “was using the incorrect words from the beginning of his priesthood until it was brought to the attention of the diocese last summer”.

“I do not have an exact number of people baptised between 1995 and 2021, but I believe they number in the thousands,” she added.

Referencing the ‘we’ versus ‘I’ argument, Thomas J Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, said in a statement: “It is not the community that baptises 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 baptises.”

‘Baptism is bigger than one word’

The Diocese of Phoenix has set up a question and answer section on its website about the situation.

One of the questions asks ‘Isn’t it legalistic to say a sacrament is invalid over a single word?’

In its response the Diseases notes: “It may seem legalistic, but the words that are spoken (the sacramental form), along with the actions that are performed and the materials used (the sacramental matter) are a crucial aspect of every sacrament.

“If you change the words, actions, or materials required in any of the sacraments, they are not valid. For example, if a priest uses milk instead of wine during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the sacrament is not valid. The milk would not become the Blood of Jesus Christ.”

Hazelwood said the comparison between changing one word and using milk instead of wine is “not comparing like with like”.

He said anyone in Ireland who is concerned about the validity of their child’s baptism if the priest in question used slightly different wording, shouldn’t worry.

I don’t think the Holy Spirit spends time listening to every word priests say. [Baptism] is bigger than that.

Hazelwood added situations like this are part of why Pope Francis is “trying to change what is happening in the Vatican” in terms of how certain strict procedures are implemented.

Arango’s error is not the first of its kind; in 2020, a priest in Michigan discovered that he had to be re-baptised after watching a family video in which the officiant also used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’.

FAQ section

In its online question and answer resource, the Diocese of Phoenix addresses a number of concerns people may have.

Some of the issue raised are as follows:

Do I need to go to confession?

No, but you do need to get your other sacraments resolved promptly. When you are baptized [sic], your sins are forgiven and your soul is wiped clean!

Does this affect my (or my child’s) First Holy Communion?

No, this does not affect your First Holy Communion (or any subsequent reception of Holy Communion) as you can only have one First Holy Communion. If you have received the Eucharist, even when unbaptized, you have received Holy Communion. Going forward, it is important to remember that only the baptized may receive the Eucharist. Please do not take Communion until after you have been validly baptized.

Does this affect my (or my child’s) confirmation?

Yes. Valid baptism is required for the valid reception of confirmation. In other words, if your baptism is invalid, your confirmation is invalid. At the time of your valid baptism, you will also receive confirmation; please contact your pastor to get this arranged.

Does this affect my marriage?

Maybe! Unfortunately, there is no single clear answer. There are a number of variables when it comes to valid marriages, and the Tribunal is here to help. If you were married after being baptized by Fr. Andres, please contact the Tribunal at (602) 354-2275 or

Contains reporting from © AFP 2022  

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