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A Catholic priest recently resigned over a silly infraction that reveals just how seriously the Church takes its rituals. In this case, the baptisms he performed have been deemed invalid.

Before telling you the details, let’s just lay out how serious the Church is taking this situation. An article in the National Catholic Reporter includes the line, “Diocesan officials did not disclose how many people are affected by the discovery.” (Yikes.) The priest in question also added, “I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people.” (Double yikes.)

Sounds like he did something pretty awful, right? They don’t apologize like this for sexual abuse cases, so you know whatever happened must have been pretty awful.

What Father Andres Arango did

Here’s the actual story: In 2017, Father Andres Arango began serving at St. Gregory Church in Phoenix, Arizona. That meant he conducted baptisms. And when he did that, he said the words, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Did you catch it?

Did you spot the grievous error that cost him his job?

In a Jan. 14 letter to the diocese, Bishop [Thomas J.] Olmsted said diocesan officials learned from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the baptisms were invalid because of the form used during the ritual by Father Andres Arango.

“Specifically, it was reported to me that Father 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,’” Bishop Olmsted wrote.

“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 sacrament, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” the bishop’s letter said.

Arango said “We baptize” instead of “I baptize,” and because of that, the people he baptized were never really baptized in the eyes of the Church. And even though this is all symbolic silliness anyway, the Church takes its rituals so seriously that a tiny, well-intentioned grammatical mistake means some people who could’ve gone to Heaven now face the possibility of eternal torture. #ReligiousLogic

This has happened before

It’s not even the first time this sort of “mistake” has occurred. In 2020, Father Matthew Hood, a priest in Detroit, was looking at a camcorder recording of his own baptism from 1990 when he realized the priest who baptized him made that exact mistake, using “we” instead of “I.”

In Hood’s mind, if he wasn’t baptized as a baby — and he technically wasn’t — then he wasn’t ever really a Christian, according to the superstitious rules of the Catholic Church. And if he wasn’t a Christian, then he couldn’t really be a Catholic priest no matter what he did in seminary. And if he was never a priest, then just about all the rituals he performed “pretending” to be a priest, or cosplaying as a priest, were also invalid.

Consider the confession booth. If someone confessed their sins to him, and he forgave them on behalf of God… no he didn’t! Those people were technically still unrepentant sinners because they didn’t confess to a real priest.

What about communion wafers? If this priest — or, should I say, “priest” — conducted a Catholic Mass, which he did, every week for years, and gave people the wafer and wine, which Catholics believe become the literal body and blood of Christ after a priest consecrates them, it turns out they were really just eating a crappy wafer and cheap wine. No Jesus parts. Because the “priest” never had the power to transform the Eucharist. 

What about Last Rites? If he cleansed the sins of people on their deathbeds, supposedly preparing their souls for the afterlife, it was all for nothing since he didn’t cleanse them of anything. (By the way, that included his own grandmother. Matthew Hood anointed her just before she died. If that didn’t count, where was grandma’s soul now…?)

It was like shooting blanks after you’ve had a vasectomy. You can go through the motions, and it might feel the same, but there’s nothing on the other side. At least in the mind of the Catholic Church.

The aftermath of invalid baptisms

And this is the dilemma facing Father Andres Arango. He made that same mistake and now the Diocese is conducting a kind of spiritual contact tracing, hoping to find all those people he fake-baptized so they can get real-baptized before it’s too late.

The entire Catholic Cinematic Universe is collapsing because of a two-letter word.

The whole situation is hilarious — yet very serious if you’re a Catholic. It’s a perfect example of how religious thinking hurts us. Sometimes, certain rules get taken so literally, the ripple effect of breaking the rule can get absurd, which is what we’re seeing here. It’s all the more absurd give that more ironclad rules in the Bible (Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not covet, Thou shalt not bear false witness, etc.) are treated as mere suggestions to so many Christians.

You’re better off ditching the whole thing. Don’t let your life get taken over by rules these people are clearly just making up as they go along.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.