PHOENIX — The priest was beloved by his parishioners — yet for years he made a one-word ritual mistake, repeatedly, that has caused confusion and anxiety for thousands of Catholics in the Phoenix area now worrying that they were improperly baptized.
Baptisms by the Rev. are under scrutiny Andres Arango was a 16-year veteran of Arizona. According to Catholic officials, thousands of baptisms may now be invalidated due to incorrect language. Some people may feel obligated to undergo other ceremonies in the church, including marriage.
Arango’s error was in saying, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” when he should have begun the sentence by saying, “I baptize you.” The difference is theologically crucial, the Vatican ruled in 2020, because it’s not the “we” of the congregation doing the baptizing but the “I” of Jesus Christ, working through the priest.
From September 2005 to his resignation February 1, Arango was in three metro Phoenix parishes. Most recently, he served at St. Gregory where parishioners credit him with reverseing a worrying drop in membership.
“Without his heartfelt kindness, care, concern and shepherding, physically and spiritually, our church and school would be nonexistent,” said Mona Shelley, a lifetime member of the parish. Arango was said to have returned several times to the church to perform rebaptisms using the correct wording.
Christina Moishe Collins is a fellow parishioner and a St. Gregory cantor. She said that Arango was given a standing ovation following his last service. People waited outside holding banners in gratitude and support.
“I don’t see him doing this with malice in any manner,” she said. “Father Andres is an amazing priest and he may have made a mistake, but that doesn’t change the fact that he really cares about his parishioners and really, truly, lives his faith.”
Eliana Najera, a parishioner who was directly affected by the botched baptism said that she was grateful for Arango’s ministry and wished he could come back. Najera’s 13-year-old daughter, Alysson, was baptized by Arango at another church and will be re-baptized at St. Gregory next week.
“As a mother I feel bad because all of these years I allowed her to receive Communion,” Najera said, referring to another sacrament that requires the recipient to first be baptized. “I have more questions than answers.”
The Diocese of Phoenix wants to find people who were baptized with Arango. The Diocese of Phoenix has created an FAQ section to address issues related to botched baptisms. It also provides a form to help people start the process to get re-baptized.
The Vatican in June 2020 issued the guidance declaring that the “We” formula was invalid and that anyone who was baptized using it must be re-baptized using the proper formula. The Holy See said it was taking action because some unnamed priests were using the “We” formula to make the baptism more of a communal affair involving parents, godparents and the community in welcoming a new member into the church.
In a note on the Phoenix diocese’s website, Arango wrote: “It saddens me to learn that I have performed invalid baptisms throughout my ministry as a priest by regularly using an incorrect formula. I deeply regret my error and how this has affected numerous people in your parish and elsewhere.”
Similar cases have occurred elsewhere in the history.
Detroit church officials stated that a 2020 deacon used incorrect words when baptizing persons from 1986-1999.
That case had the greatest impact on Rev. Matthew Hood was baptized in his youth by the priest and was later ordained a priest. Hood discovered this error after watching the video of his childhood baptism.
The archdiocese said marriages performed by Hood might not be valid and urged couples to speak to their pastor as soon as possible “so any steps can be taken to remedy your marital status in the church, if necessary.”
Hood was baptized once more and ordained a priest the second time.
Oklahoma also has a new priest named the Rev. Zachary Boazman learned his baptism had been invalid. Paul Coakley, Oklahoma City Archbishop, validated Boazman’s marriages. Boazman was then baptized again and ordained.
Katie Burke, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Phoenix, said rank-and-file Catholics brought the issue of Arango’s baptisms to the attention of the church.
“Likely, the people who heard it happen in Phoenix were aware of these other stories and therefore knew the phrasing to be incorrect,” Burke said.
Burke stated that the diocese did not know of seminarians, deacons, or priests improperly baptized in Arango.
In a petition to the Phoenix Diocese, parishioners requested a town hall meeting at the church to hear their views on the removal of the priest and demand answers to the diocese’s decision to invalidate thousands of sacraments. A spreadsheet with many examples of Arango’s positive impact on their lives was also attached to the petition.
Arango served as pastor of Saint Jerome Catholic Church, Phoenix, and St. Anne Roman Catholic Parish, Gilbert. He also served as a diplomat in Brazil and San Diego.
Andrea Reyes (a St. Gregory parishioner for many years) made contact with Arango in 2017. They subsequently reconnected after he resigned.
“He basically said that this is a very unique situation, and he understands that he made a mistake,” she said. “I was like, ‘We miss you so much.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I miss you guys too.’ I feel like he’s kind of grieving this as well as we are as a community.”
Johnny Martinez Jr. said that he started a chat with 20 members of his family to discuss whether they had been affected by botched baptisms. Martinez discovered old photos that confirmed his children weren’t baptized in Arango. However, he said he had interacted multiple times with the priest.
Arango received praise for his diligence and gentleness, but he felt that it was right to resign.
“We all have a job to do and you need to do that job correctly. It was effectively not done correctly,” Martinez said. “We just have to pick up the pieces and move from there.”
But María Vázquez, whose 6-year-old grandson was baptized by Arango and who still considers it to be valid, has sent a letter to the diocese seeking the priest’s reinstatement,
“I’m asking them to reach into their hearts and forgive,” said Vázquez. “There have been priests who have done far worse and have been allowed to remain in their churches.”
—Dell’Orto reported from Minneapolis and Henao from Princeton, New Jersey. This report was contributed by Ed White, Terry Tang (Phoenix), and Nicole Winfield (Rome) of the Associated Press.