Catholic officials advise new baptisms after priest used incorrect word for decades

An image of a priest baptizing an infant
A Catholic priest in Phoenix resigned after using the word “we” instead of “I” in thousands of baptisms, invalidating them in the eyes of the church. Above, a priest baptizes an infant.
(Jane Khomi / Getty Images)

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego is urging anyone concerned that their baptism might have been performed improperly to contact their local priest about a possible do-over.

The recommendation this week followed the resignation of a Catholic priest who acknowledged that he wrongly performed thousands of baptisms in the last two decades.

The New York Times reported Monday for print that Father Andres Arango was performing a baptism at St. Gregory Catholic Church in Phoenix last year when some congregants noticed a slight variation of the traditional ritual.


“We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest said. But, according to the Vatican, priests are instructed to say, “I baptize you …”

The difference is critical because the priest is believed to be speaking directly for Christ during baptisms and other sacramental rites.

Officials at St. Gregory investigated reports from parishioners that Arango said “we” instead of “I,” and last month they determined that the priest had wrongly performed thousands of baptisms dating back 20-plus years. The oversights also occurred while Arango was assigned to Brazil and San Diego, the New York Times reported.

Arango was assigned to the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego between 2000 and 2005, a spokesman for the diocese said Tuesday.

“If anyone thinks that somehow they have been affected by this, they just need to go to their pastor,” said Kevin Eckery, the diocesan spokesman. “If they do need to get fully baptized, their pastor can take care of it.”

The findings created a major headache for church officials in Arizona because baptisms are a foundational element of the Catholic Church. A flawed baptism could ultimately affect every other proceeding in the faith — such as weddings, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix said.

“Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments,” the diocese said in a Q&A it posted on its website.

“As the entry point to other sacraments, an invalid baptism therefore invalidates any subsequent sacraments, especially confirmation, marriage, and holy orders.”

The diocese elaborated on the crucial concern that the mistake could affect marriages.

“Unfortunately, there is no single clear answer,” the diocese said in its note to parishioners. “There are a number of variables when it comes to valid marriages, and the Tribunal is here to help.”

The church suggested that married people who were baptized by Arango contact the Tribunal, referring to the diocesan court that adjudicates ecclesiastical cases.

“It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula,” Arango wrote in a message to members of the Phoenix diocese. “I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere.”

The bishop of Phoenix issued a statement saying he did not believe that Arango “had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments.”

The San Diego diocese said Arango was assigned to one of its Newman Centers, which are Catholic community centers on university campuses. As a result, Eckery said, he is not thought to have performed a large number of baptisms.

Eckery said the diocese has yet to receive any calls from people worried about their baptism.

“It’s an extraordinary thing,” he said. “This is one of the few times I’ve ever heard of this happening.”