“The diocese is working closely with Fr. Andres and the parishes at which he was previously assigned to notify anyone who may have been baptized invalidly. Fr. Andres will be dedicating his time to helping and healing those affected,” the diocese said on its website.
Olmsted’s letter asked for prayers for the priest and “for all of those who are going to be impacted by this unfortunate situation.”
“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,” the bishop said.
He noted his own duty to be “vigilant” in overseeing the celebration of the sacraments and to ensure that they are “conferred in a manner that is in keeping with the commands of Jesus Christ in the Gospel and the requirements of sacred tradition.”
“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,” said the diocese. As a priest may not substitute milk for wine during the Consecration of the Eucharist, nor may he change the words of baptism.
“Baptism is a requirement for salvation,” the Phoenix diocese said, recounting Christ's institution of the sacrament and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
At the same time, the diocese sought to explain that God’s grace still can work if the sacraments were not validly administered.
“It is important to note that, while God instituted the sacraments for us, He is not bound by them,” the diocese said, reiterating Catholic sacramental theology. “Though they are our surest access to grace, God can grant His grace in ways known only to Him.”
Catholics can be certain that God works through the sacraments when properly conferred, but “we can be assured that all who approached God, our Father, in good faith to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed,” the diocese said.
The failure to baptize validly caused major problems for one Oklahoma man who thought he was ordained a Catholic priest. He watched a video of his infant baptism and discovered he had been invalidly baptized by a Texas deacon who used the “we baptize” formula. The man was subsequently baptized, confirmed, given first Holy Communion, and ordained a deacon and then a priest.
In September 2020, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth made public that the clergyman responsible for the invalid baptisms was Deacon Philip Webb, a now-retired permanent deacon ordained for the Diocese of Dallas but assigned to Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Carrollton, Texas, in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Anyone who was baptized by this deacon should be conditionally baptized and confirmed unless there is evidence that he validly baptized them, Olson said.
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The Texas bishop said that priests and deacons who made these “grave errors of judgment” acted “without malice” but failed to fulfill their duties to administer the sacraments correctly.
“It is wrong and misleading to claim that one has the intention to do what the Church intends Baptism to do while using words different from the valid formula prescribed by the Church-and in the case of Baptism, prescribed by the Lord Himself,” Olson said.
Another priest, Father Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit, similarly discovered he had not been validly baptized as an infant and so had to revisit the baptismal font as an adult, as well as subsequent sacraments.
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.