Phoenix Priest Who Botched Baptisms for Decades Apologizes as He Seeks to Make Amends
'The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,' Bishop Olmsted explained.
PHOENIX, Ariz. — A Catholic priest in Phoenix has apologized, asked forgiveness, and resigned as parish pastor after a determination that he had failed to baptize validly over his two decades of priestly service in Brazil, the Diocese of San Diego, and the Diocese of Phoenix.
In a Jan. 14 letter to the faithful of the diocese, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said the information is “as difficult to hear as it is challenging for me to announce.”
“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,” he said.
Bishop Olmsted cited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Aug. 6, 2020 doctrinal note, which said that baptism conferred with the formula “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is invalid. Father Arango had been using this formula.
“The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” Bishop Olmsted explained.
“I do not believe Father Andres had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments,” the bishop continued. “On behalf of our local Church, I too am sincerely sorry that this error has resulted in disruption to the sacramental lives of a number of the faithful. This is why I pledge to take every step necessary to remedy the situation for everyone impacted.”
Father Arango is a former member of the Eudist community, also known as the Congregation of Jesus and Mary. He responded to the news in his own letter, saying: “It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula. 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.”
“I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my actions have caused and genuinely ask for your prayers, forgiveness, and understanding,” Father Arango said.
Father Arango served in Brazil’s Diocese of São Salvador da Bahia in the late 1990s. He then served in California as director of the San Diego State University Newman Center from 2001-2005. He moved to St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix, Ariz. where he was pastor from 2005 to 2013, according to the Phoenix diocese. He was a parochial vicar at St. Anne in Gilbert, Ariz. from 2013 to 2015, then parochial vicar and later pastor at St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix from 2015 through Feb. 1, when he resigned.
The Phoenix diocese on its website published an explanation and a contact form for anyone who believes they or their children were baptized invalidly by the priest. Those who are unsure which priest was involved in a baptism should look at the person’s baptismal certificate, a copy of which is usually available from the parish where the baptism took place. Photos or videos of a baptism can also help determine who the administering priest was. If any such evidence is lacking, a person should contact their parish for help.
“If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized. You will need to be baptized,” the Phoenix diocese said. Anyone aware of a priest or deacon using an invalid baptismal formula in the diocese should contact diocesan officials.
An invalid baptism would invalidate the sacrament of confirmation and holy orders, for the person who has tried to receive these sacraments. Those who are not validly baptized should not receive Holy Communion until they can be baptized. There is “no single clear answer” on whether lack of a valid baptism would affect matrimony, and those whose marriages could be affected in this way should contact the diocesan tribunal.
The Phoenix diocese said that Father Arango “has not disqualified himself” from his ministry and is still in good standing.
“The diocese is working closely with Father Andres and the parishes at which he was previously assigned to notify anyone who may have been baptized invalidly. Father Andres will be dedicating his time to helping and healing those affected,” the diocese said on its website.
Bishop 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, Bishop Olson said.
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,” Bishop 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.