There is no “we” in baptism; there is an “I,” though.
That difference has invalidated thousands of baptisms performed by an Arizona priest who, since 1995, has accidentally used the phrase “we baptize you” instead of “I baptize you” while performing the Catholic ritual.
In a letter to worshippers last month, Fr. Andres Arango apologized for the error and, “with a heavy heart,” announced his resignation from the parish while pledging to “help remedy this and heal those affected.”
The Vatican itself has ruled that the seemingly small error is nothing of the sort, ordering them all redone using the correct terms.
“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,” the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix explained in an FAQ accompanying Arango’s letter. “If you change the words, actions, or materials required in any of the sacraments, they are not valid.”
The diocese compared the word switcheroo to swapping out wine for milk during the Eucharist; in other words, it’s a small change that has big consequences. So big that they render everything else moot.
“I do not believe Fr. Andres had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments,” Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted wrote in a letter to worshippers.
“The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person,” Olmsted explained. “Rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes.”
Diocese spokesperson Katie Burke told NPR the church doesn’t know the exact number of those affected, but given Arango’s decadeslong tenure in Arizona, San Diego and Brazil, “thousands” may now need to repeat the ceremony and any subsequent sacraments.
That includes some unexpected trickle-down effects as well, including even potentially invalidating some marriages.
“Will this affect my marriage?” one FAQ section asks.
The answer: “Maybe! Unfortunately, there is no single clear answer. There are a number of variables when it comes to valid marriages, and the Tribunal is here to help.”