U.S. officials: Vatican statement clarifies validity of baptisms

Regina Linskey

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- 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.

Father Francis Tiso, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, referred to a 1993 document issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity that addressed a similar issue.

The "Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism" says: "Baptism is conferred with water and with a formula which clearly indicates that baptism is done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

"It is therefore of the utmost importance for all the disciples of Christ that baptism be administered in this manner by all and that the various churches and ecclesial communities arrive as closely as possible at an agreement about its significance and celebration," it notes.

Father Tiso said the Feb. 29 Vatican clarification simply says that a person has to be rebaptized if the original baptism was not administered in such a manner.

The only real change he can predict from the Vatican's most recent clarification is that some Christian leaders would be concerned over recognizing their own local congregations' decisions and autonomy over the formula they use at baptisms. Because many non-Catholic denominations do not have a hierarchical structure like the Catholic Church, many decisions on such matters are determined by local congregations.

But, he said, the Vatican's statement will "help ecumenical leaders make the case to local leaders to follow the biblical formulas" and that this decision will have a broader impact.

Father Tiso said he currently is working on a document with four of the Reformed churches, which should be finalized in mid-March. The document includes an affirmation for baptisms to be mutually accepted by the Catholic and Reformed churches that include the use of water and the biblical formula "Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Paulist Father Ronald Roberson, whose work focuses on relations with the Orthodox churches said "there's no disagreement whatsoever with the Orthodox churches" on the subject of the formula and validity of baptisms.

[U.S. officials: Vatican statement clarifies validity of baptisms - By Regina Linskey Catholic News Service]

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