The hunt is now on for unknown thousands of people assumed to have been baptized with an invalid formula, and the priest responsible has now taken a new calling from God to rectify the situation.
The Diocese of Phoenix made the shocking announcement on Jan. 14, revealing that nearly three decades of baptism by the Rev. Andres Arango were presumed to be invalid.
The situation was explained in a letter from Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.
“It is my duty to ensure that the sacraments are conferred in a manner that is in keeping with the commands of Jesus Christ in the Gospel and the requirements of sacred tradition,” Olmsted wrote.
“It is with sincere pastoral concern that I inform the faithful that baptisms performed by Reverend Andres Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, are invalid,” the bishop said.
A minor mistake Arango made while giving the formula, or words spoken during the baptism, inherently changing the meaning in a small but powerful way.
“Specifically,” Olmsted explained, “it was reported to me that Fr. Andres used the formula, ‘WE baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ The key phrase in question is the use of ‘We baptize’ in place of ‘I baptize.’
“The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes.”
The church is now looking to correct the baptisms done over the course of Arango’s time serving Arizona, California and Brazil, according to The Associated Press.
The priest’s assignments stretch back to 1995, complicating the situation for the church.
Arango’s posts include time at four churches spread across the Phoenix metro area, as well as time in schools and parishes overseas.
The full impact of the priest’s mistake is unknown, but he is working alongside the church to resolve the situation for everyone involved.
“It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” Arango wrote. “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. In order to do this, I have resigned from my position as pastor of St. Gregory parish in Phoenix effective February 1, 2022.”
He added, “I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my actions have caused and genuinely ask for your prayers, forgiveness, and understanding.”
While Arango’s minor mistake does have serious ramifications, the priest has not disqualified himself from the ministry.
According to the church, he is now dedicating himself full-time to helping and healing the invalidly baptized. He is still considered to be a priest in good standing by Rome.
While invalidating a sacrament over one word might seem legalistic, the church has addressed these concerns directly.
“According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but He is not bound by the sacraments,” the diocese said.
“This means that while we can be certain that God always works through the sacraments when they are properly conferred by the minister, God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in whatever measure and manner He wills,” it said.
“We can be assured that all who approached God, our Father, in good faith to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed.”
Others also offered encouraging words to those worried that an invalid baptism might doom them to hell.
“Even if we want to make sure that everything is done as the rite needs to be done, what needs to be emphasized just as loudly is the notion that God isn’t constrained by the errors that a priest might make,” Gregory Hillis, professor of theology at Bellarmine University, a Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky, told the AP.
“Nobody’s assuming God’s going to say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, you got the first person plural rather than the first person singular,’” Hillis said.
Anyone who was baptized by Arango prior to June 17, 2021, is encouraged to contact the diocese for a valid baptism.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.