To flush out invalid sacraments, bishops urgently need to grill their clergy
September 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The news about the two recent “priests” who discovered that they weren’t priests at all due to having been “baptized” with an invalid formula has caused a furor, and rightly so. While they have now been baptized, confirmed, and ordained, what of all the souls affected by their lack of orders — the faithful who received mere bread because there was no consecration; the faithful who went away from confession not having been absolved; the faithful who went away thinking they were married when they were not; the converts received at Easter who were never confirmed; the sick and dying who were never anointed? And we can be sure that if two priests have already been identified, we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. The mind shudders to think what would happen if such a priest did not discover the invalidity of his ordination and were someday appointed a “bishop.” We can be grateful for the supernatural common sense by which every episcopal ordination normally has three co-consecrators.
LifeSite published a superb article by Matthew McCusker, “Reflections on the necessity for widespread access to conditional baptism,” that details the scope of the crisis and the solutions required. Sadly, this article does not seem to have attracted the attention it deserves. It ought to be required reading, certainly for bishops, priests, and deacons.
The following two things must happen, and happen soon.
First, every diocesan bishop should contact every priest or deacon who serves or has ever served in his diocese and ask point-blank: “Did you ever use a form of words when conferring any of the sacraments that differed from the words printed in the official liturgical books? I need to have a response from you saying no, you did not, or yes, you did; and in the latter case, the words you remember using. This is urgently needed for the good of souls and for setting at ease the minds of many Catholics who are rightly disturbed by recent revelations concerning the invalidity of baptisms and other sacraments due to defects in form.”
Now, it is possible that some bishops have already done this, and that others are preparing to do it, yet it is also probable that many, if not most, will not perceive the gravity of the situation and will assume that all is well unless someone reports a problem. They’ll assume that God is so merciful that He’ll never allow anyone to be lacking in grace if he has good will and that it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
This is a terribly short-sighted policy. It does not respect the sacramental economy, in which Our Lord instituted specific means for bestowing graces upon the faithful. No, He is not bound to them, but we are bound to them, and we sin by avoiding them or treating them contemptuously or lightly. We cannot presume that He will always “give us a pass,” and this is all the more true for superiors who are entrusted with the good of souls and are responsible for ensuring that they receive what the Lord wishes to give them — including, obviously, valid sacraments. A bishop who, knowing what we now know, does not exhaust himself in the effort to find out unworthy ministers of invalid sacraments will face a particularly severe judgment, as he will be responsible for any of the sheep who went astray because they were deprived of divine aids. The policy is exceedingly harmful, too, because of the “knock-on” effects of invalid sacraments: one pseudo-baptism can have exponential effects in the Body of Christ. To deny this, one would have to be an apostate who no longer believes in the most basic tenets of the Faith.
I suggest, therefore, that Catholics everywhere send a respectfully worded letter to their local ordinaries along the following lines:
“The news of two ‘priests’ who discovered their baptisms were invalid and who thus had to receive all their sacraments for the first time is terribly disturbing, since there are bound to be many more individuals who think themselves to be baptized (or confirmed, or married, or ordained) but who are not. Please, for the good of souls, send a letter to all priests and deacons who are serving or who have ever served in your diocese (including retired ones), and ask them if they ever baptized in any form other than ‘I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ while pouring water on the head. It is necessary to find out the individuals who may have used an invalid form or matter so that the people affected may be contacted. Indeed, it would be an opportunity to ask if they have used an incorrect form for any of the sacraments, including Confession, where laity often complain of ad-libbed ‘absolutions’ that leave them in doubt.”
It’s not enough for a bishop to issue a generic “Dear Everyone: Please, pretty please, use the correct words when you administer sacraments” type of letter. That may help for the future; it does nothing to correct past errors. He needs each cleric to tell him what his sacramental praxis has been — and if he receives no written response, he should seek one on the telephone or in person. Yes, this might be difficult, painful, awkward, or antagonistic. So be it. Those who have abused the sacraments, or those under whose watch they have been abused, deserve some suffering in this life, if they wish to avoid it in the next.
Second, people should begin to research what seminaries and diaconal formation programs were teaching in different parts of the country. We need to find out, in particular, where anyone who is known to have used a false form got his training. Ideas this stupid (“we baptize you”) are usually suggested in workshops by pantsuit space-age nuns or “just call me Jimmy” Jesuits; they are not likely to have originated just in the nutty heads of the ministers who did them. There are causal nodes waiting to be discovered. If we can identify the professors or programs that encouraged this nonsense, it will give us further tools for tracking down those who might have been misled by them.
This is serious business, and it deserves to be taken with utmost seriousness by the bishops of the Church.