Vatican causes chaos by invalidating baptism formula

(RNS) — Computers are unforgiving, but Christianity is supposed to be forgiving. Computers insist that humans, especially programmers, be exact. A single wrong letter in a line of code can crash a program. But even ordinary users can experience this. Nothing puts us into panic like a computer telling us: “Invalid Username or Password.” 

The religion of Jesus is supposed to be forgiving. He attacked the Scribes and the Pharisees for their emphasis on the minutiae of the law. Yet, even under Pope Francis, who is all about compassion and forgiveness, the literalists appear to be alive and well in the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

For centuries, the baptismal formula in the Roman Catholic Church has been: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Most Protestant churches have also used this formula. 

Toward the end of the 20th century, however, a few baptismal ministers began tinkering with the formula. A few ministers have said “We baptize” to bring out the familial or community dimension of the baptism.

For example, a priest might say, “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

In June the congregation, which deals with doctrinal issues, ruled that a baptism was invalid if the minister said, “We baptize” instead of “I baptize.…”

This caused absolute chaos in Detroit, where the Rev. Matthew Hood saw in a video of his 1990 baptism that Deacon Mark Springer used the “We” formula. As a result, Hood was not a Christian, let alone a priest, because he could not be validly ordained a priest if he was not validly baptized.

Hood’s situation was quickly remedied on Aug. 9 with his baptism and on Aug. 17 with his ordination. But the archdiocese is trying to track down everyone baptized by Deacon Springer, who served in Detroit from 1986 to 1999. How many other priests and deacons around the country used “We” is unknown.

But since his ordination in 2017 was invalid, people who went to Hood’s “Masses” did not really attend Mass and did not receive consecrated bread at Communion. It also means that his absolutions in confession were not sacramental. His confirmations and anointing of the sick were also invalid. When he performed these sacraments, he was not even a Christian, let alone a priest.

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Categories: Organized religion

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