Australian priests stop ‘New Age’ baptism, retake Trinitarian formula

Parishioners baptized at St. Mary’s Parish in the Archdiocese of Brisbane in the last decade should contact the church and check whether or not the church actually recognizes their baptism, said Fr. Adrian Farrelly, the archdiocese’s tribunal judicial vicar.

Two days ago, Archbishop John Bathersby of Brisbane stated that children baptized at the South Brisbane church using non-traditional words – "creator, liberator and sustainer" instead of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" – would have to be re-baptized.

"The canonical advice I received is that the baptisms are invalid and that re-baptism would be needed," Archbishop Bathersby said. "The words of Scripture can't be adjusted to suit our own taste. The next thing we'll be getting rid of Christ himself.

“Leading people to believe that they are baptized into Christ when they are not is the greatest injustice of all," he added.

According to Catholic teachings, only explicitly Trinitarian baptism – "in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit" – is valid. Hundreds of children were baptized at St Mary's in the past decade with the use of non-traditional words.

The "creator, liberator and sustainer" formula became popular among New Age- influenced Catholic communities, more interested in a broad Christian, rather than Catholic, identity. 

But the Church's regional tribunal in Brisbane says the priests have invalidated some ceremonies in which these words were used, especially the baptisms.

"They simply haven't received baptism,” said Fr. Farrelly. “They've gone through a ceremony, and they may well think that it's baptism, but the fact of the matter is that it isn't.”

This has upset many parishioners. The two priests at St. Mary's, Fr. Peter Kennedy and Fr. Terry Fitzpatrick, declined to comment.

However, in an earlier report, filed by, Fr. Kennedy, 67, said he was taken aback by the archbishop's statement and said the archbishop was wrong, “but he is the archbishop.”

The priest, who has served for 46 years, defended the use of the non-traditional words, which although not Scripture-based, are based on the doctrine of the Trinity, he said.

"It's fundamentalism to argue that the actual words are all-important," he said. "That's the trouble with the Church; under the present Pope you're not allowed to have different opinions," Fr. Kennedy said.

A more recent report indicates that the two priests have already reverted to the traditional reference to the Holy Trinity.

Fr. Farrelly says the problem of the hundreds of unbaptized Brisbane Catholics is a serious matter. "For all sorts of good reasons, at times, people will decide, well, we can do it this way or that way,” he said.

“But when you're dealing with the spiritual lives of people, there is a need to have a quality assurance that one is giving to the people what it is they're asking. The words that you use are important."

Fr. Farrelly suggests that parents, whose children received baptism in the last 10 years at St. Mary’s make an appointment with a priest and ask to have their child baptized according to the way the Church says it must be done. 

“Otherwise the person isn't baptized,” he said, “and baptism's the doorway into everything else that happens within the Church.”

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