What’s in a word? Apparently a whole lot. A Catholic priest in Arizona has been forced to resign after using the “incorrect” word in baptisms he performed over decades. Andres Arango would say, “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Oh, the horrors. For those of you like me who didn’t see the egregious offense in this passage, apparently the correct phrase is: “+I+ baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” *1

Why is this a problem? According to the Catholic Diocese, it is Christ alone who presides over all sacraments. Therefore “if you were baptized using the wrong words, [in this case I as opposed to we], that means your baptism is invalid and you are not baptized.” Which is a pretty big deal in a religion that also tells its adherents all unbaptized people will go to hell. The Diocese says it could eve nullify marriages. So they’ve decided to cause mental anguish for tens of thousands of followers, telling them they have not, in fact, been baptized as the had assumed, and their souls are in mortal danger.

While I try to be respectful of everyone’s religious beliefs, this is also a prime example of why so many people absolutely loathe organized religion. I have a hard time imagining any all-powerful Deity being so petty. Whether you worship Buddha, Allah, Krishna or Jehovah, or perhaps a 6-legged squid octopus, I’m fairly certain that if God is out there, he/she/it has more important things to worry about—like starving children, the lack of love in this world, or the fact that some people still think dabbing is a cool thing to do.

Yes, this seems more like the pettiness of us feeble-minded humans to me. I imagine even an octopus has better sense in their priorities.

This episode is also quite silly from a theological perspective. The Diocese is essentially attributing its own semantics hang-up to God, saying that a contract and commitment one makes with God is null and void simply because a wrong word was used…in a language mankind invented, used in rituals mankind invented, with words men thought up and and created, then arranged in a particular passage they decided upon (which, by the way, has changed over the years), in a religion that didn’t develop any of these rituals until long after its founder’s death.

It’s also a notion that directly contradicts everything Jesus taught while he was on this earth. I seem to remember Jesus chastising leaders for their strict adherence to rituals, scolding them for promoting the “letter of the law” over the spirit of the law. I remember him rebuking people who criticized him for plucking some grains on Sabbath, and overturning tables in the temple while defying priests. In fact, this is a big reason why he was crucified.

It would be nice if the Diocese could take a chill pill, stop traumatizing its constituents unnecessarily, and focus its energies on things that truly matter. This entire episode is reminiscent of when the Catholic Church put Gayetano Ripoll to death for instructing his young charges to say “Praised be the Lord” instead of “Hail, purest Mary.” *2 Apparently, things haven’t strayed all that far from the days of the inquisition.

Life is difficult enough as it is. We certainly don’t need to run around creating mental anguish where none need exist.

References:
1. Marina Pitofsky, “Ariz. priest resigns after incorrect word invalidates baptisms,” USA Today, Feb. 16, 2022, p. 5A
2. M.L. Martinez,, “Cayetano Ripoll,” National Geographic History, Jan./Feb 2019, pp. 74-75

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