As It Happens

Thousands of baptisms declared invalid in Arizona because of a single word

Thousands of parishioners at a Catholic church in Phoenix, Ariz. had their baptisms invalidated - all because of a single word uttered by their priest. Father Andres Arango has since resigned, but St. Gregory Catholic Church member Noemi Godinez says she doesn't think it's fair.

The Catholic diocese says the priest used 'We' instead of 'I' during the sacred ceremony

Noemi Godinez, right, stands with her husband Raul Bencomo, their baby daughter and Father Andres Arango, centre, after his final mass at St. Gregory Catholic Church in Phoenix, Ariz. (Submitted by Noemi Godinez)

Story Transcript

A priest has resigned and thousands of baptisms were declared invalid after the Catholic diocese questioned the wording of one priest's baptism ceremony — and members of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Phoenix, Ariz., are not happy.

"It makes my heart saddened that over a technicality, there's this huge domino effect that also includes him leaving our parish," Noemi Godinez, who attends the church, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

All across the Catholic faith, baptisms are considered a rite of passage. The ceremony is made up of sacred rituals to purify people, as pastors welcome them into the church community.

Over his 20-year career, Father Andres Arango has performed thousands of baptisms. According to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, he used the words, "We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

But there is one crucial word that differed from the Catholic Church's script: Father Arango was supposed to say "I baptize you," on behalf of God, and not "We," referring to the wider church community. According to the Diocese, the weight of Arango's words nullified each baptism and any subsequent religious ceremony in that person's life. 

"It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms," Arango said in a statement. "I deeply regret my error [and] will dedicate my energy and full time ministry to help remedy this."

Pope Francis blesses a baby during a baptism at the Vatican in 2014. Baptisms are considered a rite of passage in the Catholic faith. (L'Osservatore/The Associated Press)

Arango resigned from his role at St. Gregory Catholic Church earlier this month.

"The community believes that he resigned from the church. He didn't resign from his sacrament," Godinez said. "We don't really believe that it was done because he wanted to. It was done because he had to."

Members of the community are circulating a petition to try and reinstate Arango as their pastor, with some people thinking he didn't always say "We."

"For me, there's nothing really wrong with that. It's just the technicality that was wrong for the diocese," Godinez said. "And to be honest, they only have one video that actually said that he was wrong. We're actually trying to open up an investigation with that so that more people can come out and say, 'Hey, my video says I instead of We, so why do I have to go back and do all this all over again?'"

Parishioners to get re-baptized

Arango's former congregation members, whether they are still in Phoenix or they moved elsewhere, are expected to reach out to him or the diocese and arrange to redo their baptisms. The pastor will also have to review the baptisms he performed at his previous parishes in San Diego and Brazil.

"Father Arango remains a priest in good standing," Katie Burke, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix wrote in an email to As It Happens. "His resignation as pastor from St. Gregory Parish allows him to spend his full-time ministry helping and healing those affected by this mistake."

The Phoenix community is mostly only dealing with baptizing people again. But any other ceremony such as a person's first communion, their confirmation and even their marriage could be invalidated by this technical error.

"You have a person who has a domino effect that really affected their whole entire religion [and] their whole entire commitment," Godinez said. "I don't think that's fair."

Godinez herself has a one-month-old daughter and hopes to bring Father Arango back for her baptism.

"I will ask for permission for him to baptize her — and at St. Gregory," she said.

"If we can get him to come back, that would be amazing. But if we can't, then you know, we gave it our all ... to give him a voice and to be able to stay home."


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Noemi Godinez produced by Kate McGillivray.

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