The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Are you validly baptized? Married? Better check

The Vatican has just issued some guidelines and a clarifying statement on the sacrament of baptism and its validity that may throw some people into a tizzy — and maybe make a few lose sleep:

Doctrinal and ecumenical officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the release of a Vatican statement addressing the validity of baptisms was to answer bishops’ questions and to provide consistency in the church’s practice.


“I think if you are over the age of 45 to 50 you have nothing to fear” regarding the validity of baptisms, said Father Tom Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan who is executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Doctrine. Those in the younger generation shouldn’t “have a huge amount of fear” either, he added.

According to the statement released by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Feb. 29, a baptism administered “in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier” or formulas that do not say “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is not a baptism at all. If the baptism is invalid, so are the other sacraments the person may have received, such as matrimony.


“If you are not validly baptized,” and thus not validly married, “a person needs to get rebaptized and remarried,” explained Father Weinandy.

However, unless a witness at the baptism knows that an incorrect formula was used, “it is assumed they used the right formula,” he said. “The presumption is the obvious truth that the baptism is valid.”

The Vatican’s statement was released “because of the abuse (by priests and Protestant ministers at baptisms) and the questions that have come from it,” said Father Weinandy.

The Vatican “wants to make sure the formula is the proper formula,” he told Catholic News Service Feb. 29.

Instances in which a baptism has been considered invalid have been “very, very, very few and far between,” he said.

Check the link to see if you think you might be one of those “few and far between.”

Comments read comments(7)
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Jeff Miller

posted March 1, 2008 at 1:29 pm

I don’t see how this would effect marriage as your post title suggests.Unbaptized people can be validly married, just not sacramentally married. Once these people are baptized they will then also be sacramentally married. Though confirmations will have to be redone since these would have also been invalid without a proper Baptism.There are some areas where these invalid baptism were not few and far between. In Australia there are areas such as Brisbane where this was standard practice and done for years.

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posted March 1, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Don’t you think this would be one of those areas where “the church supplies”? Good grief.

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posted March 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm

Why is this even a story? I can’t believe the Vatican “Baptismal Police” have embroiled themselves in this pettiness. Who cares? It’s about intent – not formulas. This whole issue make us look even more insipid to the rest of the world. The Church has lost so much credibility over the last years, how can we continually do this to ouselves?

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Jeff Miller

posted March 1, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Shannon,This is not a case of “Ecclesia supplet” where under limited circumstances the Church provides jurisdiction for an act. This is a case of defect in sacramental form.As Canonist Ed Peters notes:”To adapt a phrase, Ecclesia non supplet quod Ecclesia non habet; the Church cannot supply what the Church does not have, and the Church does not have the ability to supply sacramental form to a minister’s deficient utterance”And he also notes:”Well, even though Ecclesia supplet seems of no avail here, nevertheless, we may hold that, in some way, Deus providet, that is, God provides, or God foresees. If tragedy were to befall a hapless penitent, I think, like Fr. Hoffman, that one’s efforts to seek absolution for sins in this life would somehow be rewarded by God in the next.”Terry,It has never been Church teaching that only intent is required. Both form, valid matter, and intent are necessary requirements. If I were to baptize someone with motor oil it would not be a valid baptism even if my intent was to do what the Church does. The pettiness is people changing the Baptismal formula giving by Jesus to us for some silly feminist theology that does not want to mention God the Father – now that is petty.

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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted March 1, 2008 at 8:22 pm

This Easter Vigil I will be sponsoring a woman Protestant minister as she enters the Catholic Church. Her main issue is that of authority–she has concluded that outside vthe Catholic Church there is none. Yet there are Catholics like Terry who, according to the tone of his comment, are very much anti-authority. But my minister friend is convinced that the reason there is anarchy and chaos (and 33,000 different denominations) outside the Catholic Church is the lack of authority. And the exercise of authority in defense of baptism in the face of feminist radicalism certainly seems justified.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Jeff,You are accurate, form , valid matter and intent are necessary. I stand corrected.Deacon John,Don’t be so defensive. I am not an anti-authoritarian Catholic. What I am “anti” about is the “whited sepulchres” of the episcopate, the presbyterate and the diaconate. Don’t preach to me about the “excercise of authority” over anything if the very core of that authority is mired in sin.

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John C. Hathaway

posted March 20, 2008 at 6:36 pm

” It’s about intent – not formulas”First of all, it is not about intent. A priest does not have to believe anything to validly perform a sacrament. A priest can be an atheist and have committed every mortal sin in the book. But if he celebrates Mass according to the rubrics and is validly ordained, the Mas is valid.But in a case like this, rubrics and intent come together: the intent of the priests in question *is* to use pagan terminology, is to inject paganism into Catholicism. And, since you’re bringing the Scandals into it (which I prefer to think of as “the purging”). For the most parts, the priests doing the molesting were the same ones saying, “We don’t have to do this the way the Church says to.”

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