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In 2020 the Vatican's doctrinal office released a reminder that baptisms administered with improper form are invalid. Since then, at least two tragic stories of invalidity have emerged right here in the United States.
In tonight's In-Depth Report, Church Militant's Paul Murano uncovers the confusion and looks at the charges of legalism.
Fr. Matthew Hood, archdiocese of Detroit: "Sadness, confusion, feeling alienated — I've been a priest for three years; I thought I was a priest for three years."
Almost two years ago in Troy, Michigan, a man known as Fr. Matthew Hood had his nightmare confirmed.
Hood: "It was very shocking when I first found out."
He was not a priest. His baptism and subsequent ordination were invalid.
More recently, the diocese of Phoenix last month told parishioners thousands of baptisms performed by Fr. Andres Arango were invalid.
In both situations, the impediment was in the words spoken.
Brahm Resnik, reporter, 12 News Phoenix: "Phoenix bishop Thomas Olmsted said the key phrase was 'We baptize' in place of 'I baptize.' The issue with using 'we,' he said, is that it is not the community that baptizes a person; rather it is Christ — and Him alone — Who baptizes."
The Church teaches every sacrament has form and matter necessary for its validity. With baptism, the form is the words. The matter is water.
Evelyn Ortega, St. Gregory parishioner: "I don't think the slightest it was something he did on purpose."
The minister of the sacrament must intend baptism but must also use proper form — the right words.
Author and columnist Deirdre Reilly wrote a scathing article on the Real Clear Religion website Tuesday, declaring, "Inattention to Dogma Doesn't Invalidate Baptism in God's Eyes."
Deirdre Reilly: "If you have faith, you know who you are. No one can take that away from you."
An adult convert to Catholicism, Reilly accuses the Church of legalism. She claims "man-made words" can't invalidate a baptism because God chooses "love over law."
Reilly's mistake is common. In truth, the form of love is law.
Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., director, the Thomistic Institute: "[Law is] a rational or reasonable principle of order by which things are directed to their ends."
And as natural law is the form that defines love, so too the proper words are the necessary form of the sacraments.
Bishop Olmsted is reaching out to those thought to be baptized by Arango to readminister the sacrament.
On his diocesan website, paraphrasing the Catechism and quoting Aquinas, Olmsted notes, "While God instituted the sacraments for us, He is not bound by them. ... God can grant His grace in ways known only to Him."
To declare proper form is not necessary, as Reilly does, is dangerously presumptuous. To declare, on the other hand, God can never confer grace outside the sacraments He established limits His infinite power.
Father Arango resigned from St. Gregory parish earlier this month after decades of performing invalid baptisms here in Michigan as well as in Southern California. He is now dedicating the remainder of his priesthood to rectifying his error.