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Invalid Baptisms

Part I

August 27, 2020  -  Regarding Baptisms

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I pray this letter finds you well and enjoying these final weeks before Labor Day, in what has turned out to be a year we won’t forget anytime soon. Although these times have been challenging in many ways, I remain grateful for the blessings that the Lord has given us. From simple pleasures like the beautiful weather, to more profound blessings like the relationships with those we love, there is much to be thankful for even when circumstances are less than ideal. 

As the Church, one thing we remain grateful for is the immeasurable gift of the sacraments and the grace we receive from our sacramental life. With this in mind, I write today in regards to a recent response from the Vatican regarding the sacrament of baptism. I share the following, both to inform you, as well as to address questions that may arise for you in response. 

Doctrinal Response on the Validity of Baptism with a Modified Formula 

Earlier this month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a doctrinal response and commentary regarding the validity of baptisms conferred with a modified formula. This doctrinal note informed the Church that baptisms conferred using a first person plural formula are considered invalid through a lack of proper form. This means that baptisms conferred with the form of “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and other similar variations (rather than “I baptize you … ”) are not valid baptisms. 

This clarification from the Vatican reaffirms the truth that in the sacrament of baptism the person of Christ is acting through the minister, not through the assembly. Additionally, this response reminds that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” which was established by the Second Vatican Council. 

What Does This Mean for You?

After reading this, you may begin to question, “What does this mean for me?” “Is my baptism invalid?” “Should I be concerned about this?” As a general rule, the answer is no, unless there is evidence to the contrary. It is appropriate that this reminder should prompt us to reflect and take pause. But this reflection should be in thanksgiving for the gift of grace we receive freely through baptism, and in humility for our continued obedience and reverence in receiving  this gift in the manner handed down to us by our Lord and through sacred Tradition. It should not be out of fear or anxiety.

The overwhelming majority of baptisms are valid. Only a small number may be affected by this decree. All sacraments are presumed to be valid unless established to be otherwise. With this in mind, I encourage you not to doubt the validity of your baptism without good cause to do so. 

Those who may have a recording of their baptism, or other confirmation of the fact, and are concerned should review this in order to verify that the baptism is valid. If this leads to the conclusion that the modified

formula was used and the baptism is invalid, contact your parish or the diocese. For the majority of those baptized who do not have a recording or other confirmation, again, I urge you not to doubt your baptism’s validity if there is no evidence suggesting the contrary.  

Closing Thoughts

Archbishop Vigneron of the Archdiocese of Detroit recently shared on this same topic, “The Church, following the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, recognizes that God has bound Himself to the sacraments, but He is not bound by the sacraments.” This beautifully articulates that while we consider this matter to be of the utmost importance in our spiritual journey as followers of Christ, we recognize that God’s grace extends far beyond what we can comprehend. I am reassured in knowing that God in His infinite love and mercy is not bound by our rules and determinations, as important as they are for the good and salvation of us all. 

This letter is not to alarm anyone regarding the validity of their baptism, but rather to give anyone who has concerns the opportunity to address it. It also provides us all with the opportunity to reflect on the great gift that God has given to us in this sacrament. 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

+ Most Reverend Walter A. Hurley 

Apostolic Administrator

 

 

Part II

September 3, 2020

Dear Brother Priests and Friends in Christ,

As you may already be aware — possibly as a result of reading my letter of August 27, 2020, "Regarding Baptism" — concerns have surfaced regarding individuals having been baptized using the words "we baptize you" rather than "I baptize you." The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has now declared such baptisms invalid and has stated that persons so baptized must be baptized anew using the correct formula in absolute and not conditional terms. This decision has created a pastoral problem which I now wish to address in its historical context.

One important fruit of the Second Vatican Council was a greater understanding of the equal dignity of all the faithful from the most recently baptized to the Holy Father himself. Another was a great re­awakening of the sense — present in the early Church — of the importance of community, and of the Church as a great assembly of the faithful. As a result and in a sincere effort to overcome excessive clericalism, some may have undertaken baptisms in which the word "we" was used.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity or the good will of those who may have done so without realizing the consequences of such a change in the form of the sacrament. Prior to the recent response of the CDF, which our Holy Father approved, there was no definitive statement that the formula "we baptize you" was invalid. In fact, certain private communications from at least one other Vatican Congregation concluded that baptisms using these words were illicit rather than invalid.

However, since it has been approved by the Pope, the CDF's declaration takes priority. As the CDF stated, it is not the community that baptizes but the priest, deacon or layperson who administers baptism does so in the person of Christ who baptizes. Notwithstanding the good will of those involved, since any such baptisms have been declared to be invalid, the persons who come forward with established claims must be heard and baptized again.

Whenever we become certain that this occurred, we Church leaders need to make efforts to contact those affected. Our common concern is for the spiritual good of the individuals. For this reason, I hope that any who have performed, been involved in, or received such baptisms will acknowledge having done so. Every effort will be made to handle these cases with great care and, in as much as is possible, with respect for the privacy of all.

To this end, I have asked Father Matthew Furgiuele to be our point person. In other words, I have appointed him to address these situations and coordinate our diocesan efforts to remedy any situations of deficiency. Father Matthew and I are of the same mind, and so, should you be contacted by him, know that he is concerned for those who may have been invalidly baptized as well as for those who, with the best of intentions, have celebrated baptisms in this way.

I can foresee that there will be cases in which the celebrant of the baptism may have died or may be unreachable and/or unwilling to acknowledge what happened. I can also foresee occasions in which there is no verification by witnesses or by video or audio evidence.

If there is a high probability based on the evidence received that a baptism was celebrated using the "we baptize" formula but it is not possible to conclude with certainty that the celebration was invalid, the possibility of a conditional baptism may be explored for the sake of helping people attain peace of conscience. In these circumstances, I ask that you allow the matter of baptism, whether absolute or conditional, to be coordinated by the Diocese of Gaylord through the good offices of Father Furgiuele.

If you are aware of having celebrated such baptisms using the "we baptize" formula, or if someone in your parish should come to you with concerns about his or her own or a family member's baptism, please do not undertake the baptism yourself without contacting the diocese through Father Furgiuele. Together we shall arrive at some determination and a path forward. We want to do what will best serve the spiritual needs of our people. We will have protocols and procedures (e.g., a form to fill out) so we can properly record what may have happened and determine a corrective and healing course of action. These protocols will be available next week. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter and God's blessings on our priestly ministry .

With good wishes, 

 

+ Most Reverend Walter A. Hurley

Apostolic Administrator

 

 

Part III

September 11, 2020 - Guidelines for Addressing Invalid Baptisms

As we continue to move towards remedying possible invalid baptisms, the following will be useful in indicating how to proceed in certain situations. It is worth recalling that a sacrament once celebrated is presumed to be valid unless there is a compelling reason to regard it as invalid and celebrate it again.

The following outlines possible situations which may be encountered and how to respond to each situation:

 

Situation #1: 

An individual comes forward stating to have witnessed an invalid baptism and has sufficient evidence.

  • If the invalidity of the baptism is determined to have been established, then baptism must be celebrated anew.
  • Once the invalidity of the baptism has been established, the current Pastor of the person will perform the new baptism, and if confirmation is also required, he shall be given the faculty to confirm that person by the Bishop.
  • The place where the new baptism occurs will become the location where all sacramental records are kept, and a notification of the new baptism should be sent to the parish where the invalid baptism took place so that any future enquiries may be directed to the new location. 
  • The Diocese will send a notification to the original parish of the invalidity of the original baptism.

 

Situation #2: 

An individual comes forward stating he or she has witnessed an invalid baptism but does not appear to have sufficient evidence at first glance. 

  • The determination of invalidity will depend on the nature of the evidence provided. Questions as follow may need to be answered: Is the minister of the baptism still alive and able to be contacted? Is the minister of the baptism one who is known to have done other invalid baptisms? Are there any witnesses, and if so, how many? Are these individuals willing to swear to the truth of their assertions?
  • The person should fill out the appropriate form [below], and do so along with a priest or staff member of the parish if possible. The form should be forwarded to the diocese.

 

Situation #3: 

A priest or a deacon comes forward to acknowledge that he has made use of the “We baptize …” formula when baptizing.

  • In such a case, the invalidity of the baptism will be deemed to have been established and, as such, baptism must be celebrated anew.
  •  The priest or deacon should fill out the appropriate form [below] and forward it to the diocese.

 

Situation #4: 

It is established that multiple invalid baptisms were celebrated within a parish.

  • In situations in which multiple invalid baptisms have been celebrated, efforts will be made to contact all those who may have been affected by it.

 

Situation #5: 

It is established that an investigation does not result in a sufficient evidence of the invalidity of the baptism, but does appear to seriously call into question the validity of the baptism.

  • Sometimes it is not possible to make a clear determination because of the lack of sufficient evidence, but there is still cause for  questioning the validity of the baptism. For example, there might be multiple witnesses who believe that the “We baptize … ” formula was used or that the priest or deacon might be one whom multiple individuals believe to have used the “We baptize … ” formula. In these instances, we will explore in more detail the available evidence. Following that investigation, the findings will be presented to the Bishop who will determine the appropriateness of a conditional baptism. The persons involved will be informed of the decision. 
  • If determined to be valid, it should be recorded in the original registry book. 

 

Situation #6: 

Someone comes forth with the initial information that does not provide sufficient information to question the presumption of validity of the baptism.

  • This may happen when the person who comes forward has only hearsay evidence or by their own admission is not convinced of their own recollection of the baptism. Unless another person with direct knowledge of the situation also questions its validity, the baptism will be presumed to be valid and no further action will be taken.

 

The seal of confession is absolutely inviolable. Therefore, any priest aware of the invalidity of a baptism only by means of the sacrament of Reconciliation cannot reveal this under any circumstances. If a person comes to confession, either for having conducted such a baptism or  having witnessed it, the priest may encourage him or her to report the incident outside of confession. If a priest has this knowledge from a previous confession however, he must not contact the person to talk about it.

It is important that any person who comes forward — whether a layperson; priest; or deacon — be made known to the Bishop’s delegate by forwarding the appropriate form [below] that can be found on the website of the Diocese. Should the person coming forward with such questions prefer to speak with their pastor or a parish staff member, they should be encouraged to do so and advised that the information they provide will be forwarded to the diocese for review. This will help to ensure a uniform response. 

The following information is requested from anyone making a report of questionably valid baptisms:

  1. Your name (person coming forward): 
  2. Your relation to the baptized person:
  3. Your email address and phone number:  
  4. Were you actually present, or did you hear about it from someone else?
  5. Do you have an audio or video recording or other evidence of the baptism?
  6. If you are not the person who was baptized, and if that person is still a minor, may we contact their parents?
  7. What was the approximate date and location of the baptism and who performed it?

Outcomes of the process:

Once the above information has been provided to the Diocese of Gaylord, it will be possible for us to move forward. We will contact the person to go over the information already provided and to review any evidence they may have.  Wherever possible, we will also arrange to speak with the priest or deacon who performed the baptism. 

Once established, either by the acknowledgement of the priest or deacon who performed the baptism or baptisms that he used the “We baptize … ” formula, or by the information gathered, arrangements will be made to baptize the person or persons absolutely and not conditionally.

An annotation will be made in the original baptismal record of the declaration of invalidity and date. Depending on where the new baptism takes place, the recipient will receive either information on where to find the new records, or, if the baptism takes place in the same parish, where the new information will be found.

If it is not possible to make a clear determination, we will see if there is still probable cause for questioning the validity of the baptism. For example, there might be multiple persons who believe that the  “We baptize … ” formula was used or that the priest or deacon might be one whom multiple individuals believe to have used the “We baptize … ” formula. Following additional review, the findings will be presented to the Bishop so that a determination of  the appropriateness of a conditional baptism can be made. The decision of the Bishop will be relayed to the person or persons concerned.

In cases where other sacraments (confirmation) are also required, the priest who celebrates the baptism will be delegated to celebrate them as well. 

In cases where it is determined that there is no reason to consider the original baptism invalid, and there is not sufficient reason to perform a conditional baptism, this information will also be provided to the individual so that his or her conscience may be at peace being ever mindful that God’s grace comes to us through the sacraments, but is not limited to the sacraments.