QUAERITUR: Received baptism from SSPX – must I be conditionally baptized?

From a reader:

I write inquiring about the validity of my baptism at the SSPX.

I approached the Roman Catholic Parish in our area and inquired about this matter. The parish priest told me that i will be given a conditional baptism.

Is conditional baptism right Father?

No, in my opinion, it is not.

I cannot imagine that the SSPX priest would not have followed closely the pre-Conciliar Rituale Romanum.  Since the SSPX is suspended, a formal, liturgical baptism would have been illicit, but it certainly would have been valid.

(The issue of the Sacraments of Penance and of Matrimony are separate issues and outside the scope of this discussion.)

Unless there is local knowledge that that particular SSPX priest does odd things to the form of baptism, or perhaps uses a Gin and Tonic (without ice) to baptize instead of water, I cannot see why validity should be in question. 

A possible explanation for this curious notion might be ignorance borne of dislike for anything tradition.  That is speculation on my part, but I have seen this attitude before: A priest or bishop doesn’t like or doesn’t understand traditional liturgy and therefore he calls validity of pre-Conciliar rites into question.

 

I think it would be worth your while asking the opinion of your local bishop about this issue of conditional baptism.

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33 Responses to QUAERITUR: Received baptism from SSPX – must I be conditionally baptized?

  1. Father- I think the correct interpretation of the priest’s answer might have to do with how the question was asked.

    i.e.:

    Q: Father, I’m really worried. I was baptized by the SSPX! Are you sure my baptism was valid?

    Fr: Anyone can baptize as long as they do it in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    Q: But are you SURE?

    Fr: We can do a conditional Baptism, if you like….

    I’ve also heard of cases of ‘conditional baptism’ for people coming in from Protestant churches who have no actual record of their Baptism. Just to get the paperwork in order for Marriage, etc…..

  2. basilorat says:

    Rmus:
    But gin & tonic IS mostly water. The lime would come in handy to cleanse the sacred digits.

  3. basilorat: Maybe the Gs&T you make are mostly water. I assure you that when I make them, they are not.

  4. catholicmidwest says:

    If you can produce proof that you were baptised using the correct words and water on the head, your baptism is fine and should be accepted as is. Moreover, if baptisms can be accepted from the likes of the Lutherans (as mine was) I have no idea why baptisms under the auspices of the SSPX (which is in many senses in union with Rome) can’t be accepted.

    I was baptised Lutheran, but I was an young adult at the time and remember the words and the baptismal font; moreover, I have a handkerchief that has been wet with water and a certificate. It was more than enough. What I had to do was make a public profession of faith and be confirmed at the Vigil. This happened in the 80s. I am now Catholic, Roman Rite.

    Some protestant groups routinely use the correct form; some do not. It’s important to know what happened because the proper form must be present for validity.

  5. catholicmidwest says:

    For instance, I believe that Seventh Day Adventists have a radically different understanding of baptism, and they use different words. SDA members actually believe that they can be baptised more than once too. Therefore, I understand that there are more problems with that baptism than one from a more “mainline” organization like the Lutherans or Methodists. LDS (Mormon) baptisms are surely also not valid, same general reason, proper form not present.

  6. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Not wanting to be my usual dramatic self, but I think it is scandalous for a Catholic priest to doubt an SSPX baptism. It is also sacrilege to repeat a baptism when you have certitude of its validity (again, not wanting to sound too dramatic, but the Church uses that term for repeating baptism).

    I would never conditionally baptize an SSPX adherent. The SSPX are far more diligent and careful about the validity of the rites than most Novus Ordo priests. I fear this is another fruit of the lingering animosity between some of the SSPX and the rest of the Church.

    On their side, they may not wish to receive Novus Ordo Hosts, because of their doubts. Now, I fear the Novus Ordo priests will start to return the favor, and not want to recognize SSPX sacraments. What a sad state. Donatism really is insidious and contagious once it gets going in the Church.

  7. Joshua08 says:

    This frankly amazes me to no end. I know several instances where people were received into the Church even though there was positive reason to doubt their baptisms (in the cases I know, these people later found that out and were, in most cases, conditionally baptised), and yet with all that laxity and they doubt the validity of the SSPX’s baptisms, which frankly I would trust more than a baptism in a standard Catholic Church. Heck I know of invalid baptisms by Catholic priests, and many doubtful ones. While I certainly do not think that is a majority and would need positive reason to doubt any particular baptism (such as evidence that the priest says “Creator, redeemer…etc”), I would bank on an SSPX baptism over one done in a standard Church any day

  8. catholicmidwest says:

    It also amazes me. I cannot imagine that SSPX baptisms are likely to be less valid than protestant ones, which actually can exhibit a lot of variation. Remember that many (most?) protestant churches are organized on a congregation by congregation basis, so services and practices can vary an incredible amount, depending on local preferences and the preferences of their individual ministers.

  9. Mitchell NY says:

    I agree with Fr. Sotelo,
    Of course just another supposition, but it is likely that the NO Priest wanted to cast some doubt on the SSPX’s baptism validity, thereby introducing a general aire of invalidity to the SSPX as a whole. Let’s face it, as a communicant, I would feel if I were told I needed a conditional baptism that my whole previous way of worshipping may be invalid. We are talking about the state of being valid, not licit, if done with the SSPX for some time previous. I wonder if suggesting to the NO Priest that his ordination may need to be re-visited, because there may be just a slight doubt about the rite used to preform it, would he be so willing to undergo conditional ordination? OK it is a stretch to make this comparison, but the point is that we should assume validity if performed with the correct intentions. ANd the SSPX are known for their rigid following of rules and rituals. And I believe Rome has stated people may go to the SSPX, albeit not in conflict or oppostion to the Pope, and barring marriage and penance at this time. Therefore one could conclude baptism being valid, though illicit as it is not mentioned as being “barred”..I stand to be corrected if I am wrong, it is a confusing topic, all the more reason we need to pray the Holy Father can bring this to a conclusion during his Pontificate. Lay persons are still disoriented by what they can and can not do in regards to their Faith. This is not good for souls.

  10. catholicmidwest says:

    And actually, Joshua08, I’d agree with you on NO baptisms too. I’ve seen, in my 25 years as a Catholic, several things that I’m absolutely sure were invalidated on lack of form alone. People are not always aware they’ve been victimized either. It’s a sad, sad thing.

    As a layperson, you have to protect yourself from a certain type of priest–a sad fact, but nevertheless true.

  11. Jordanes says:

    catholicmidwest said: For instance, I believe that Seventh Day Adventists have a radically different understanding of baptism, and they use different words. SDA members actually believe that they can be baptised more than once too.

    SDA doctrine on baptism is different, but not quite “radically different,” and they use the words of Jesus, baptising in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Also, while Ellen G. White and other early Adventist teachers were non-Trinitarian, since then the SDA denomination has reverted to Trinitarianism. It is true, sadly, that the SDA sometimes rebaptises — in cases of apostate Christians who return to Christian faith, the SDA will rebaptise. (I know of some sects that will even rebaptise if a person thinks he wasn’t really repentant and is afraid his baptism “didn’t take.”)

    There are sects and denominations that reject the Trinitarian baptismal formula and Trinitarian theology, such as Oneness Pentecostals, who reject the Trinity and baptise only “in the name of Jesus,” but the SDAs are not among them.

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    Okay, Jordanes, I’ve never been SDA, but I’m familiar with some of their practices since I used to live near Andrews University in Michigan, and that’s probably why that example came to mind. I’ve never been to one of their baptisms though. They’re fairly aggressive and “sticky” about church attendance. It’s best to keep your distance on this topic if you know any SDAs. =)

  13. Supertradmum says:

    In RCIA practice, anyone from a congregation which does not believe in the Trinity as Catholicism teaches, including the Mormons, baptism must be given. Secondly, in those low church congregations where baptism in only in the Name of Jesus, baptism must be given. Thirdly, if a person was baptized in a Catholic Church in the Name of the Creator, the Savior, and the Sustainer, that person must be baptized. An RCIA director, as I have been, needs to be aware of all the false permutations of baptism.

    The SSPX baptism is valid.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    Redeemer has sometimes been used in the place of Savior in those bogus baptisms.

  15. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I believe a “conditional baptism” should be resorted to very rarely. I have done three: two with an infant, who was (very) dubiously alive, but allowing for the benefit of the doubt, I said (whispering), “if you are alive, I baptize you…”

    The other was a woman entering the Church, and we tried every which way to establish whether she had been baptized previously. Unable to do so, I explained to her what I was doing.

    Of course, we want to be sure whether folks are validly baptized or not; and we now have further doubt because of this nonsense of “Creator, Redeemer” etc., that has been happening in some of the Protestant communities. (Yes, I know some Catholic clerics have done it, but my sense is that gets smacked down pretty quickly. Anyone who has first-hand information–i.e., you actually saw or heard it happen in your presence, or you saw or heard a video or audio tape, and you don’t know if it was acted upon, report it. Our bishops don’t have patience with this.)

    Of course, if we could establish that someone did alter the form, then we don’t do anything conditional–that’s not a baptism. But not knowing, that’s the problem.

    Still, a conditional baptism is an unhappy solution, because it’s very weird to celebrate a sacrament, while you are actively in question whether a sacrament is actually happening at that moment! While this arises out of taking the sacrament very seriously, it is a shame to have to have doubt about when you were baptized–either 10 years ago, or today, we’re not sure.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Father Fox,

    The bishop in our diocese had to send a note around to all the priests in the diocese to cease and desist from the Creator, Redeemer baptisms, find those they had baptized with this bogus phrase, and re-baptize them. Sadly, many people thus baptized had left the diocese, received other sacraments, including marriage, after these scandalous baptisms, and I am sure not everyone was re-baptized.

  17. Supertradmum says:

    Just curious, where did that silly song “May the blessing of the Lord be upon you” start? Followed by “We bless you in the Name of the Lord”, etc. This is sung sometimes with the “lay blessings” in many parishes in the Midwest.

  18. Supertradmum says:

    It has been sung at baptisms, First Holy Communion, Weddings, anniversaries, etc.

  19. LawrenceK says:

    Perhaps the issue is not theology, but bureacracy.

    I know someone who was baptized in his college dormitory by his girlfriend. She certainly used the proper form and matter. Years later, when they joined the Catholic Church, he was conditionally re-baptized. The issue was not whether she had used the form and matter correctly. Rather, the issue was whether the baptism had been documented in the record books of some institutional church or ecclesial community — and, of course, it had not been.

    All Catholic parishes, as required by the Council of Trent, keep records of baptisms, marriages, and confirmations. Sometimes these records are stored at the parish church, and sometimes in the diocese.

    Where does an SSPX chapel keep its baptismal records? At the parish church? If so, what is their “parish”? Do SSPX chapels have parish boundaries? If they are not considered to be parishes, then the records must be kept by the diocese. Are these records stored with the local ordinary as recognized by the Catholic Church in communion with Pope Benedict XVI? I would be very surprised. If not, are they sent to one of the four SSPX bishops?

    You see the problem. The SSPX chapels claim to recognize the authority of Benedict and their local ordinary, and my understanding is that when the canon says “cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Antistite N.” they say the names of Pope Benedict and the local ordinary in communion with him. In that case, they should not be sharing their baptismal records with the local ordinary. If, on the other hand, the SSPX declared itself to be not in communion with Benedict, and formed its own separate hierachy, the Catholic Church would honor its baptismal records like we honor those of the Greek Orthodox, the Methodists, etc. But in the current state, how can we (bureaucratically) verify that the baptism actually took place?

  20. LawrenceK says:

    In the previous paragraph, the sentence “In that case, they should not be sharing their baptismal records with the local ordinary.” should read “In that case, they should follow the local ordinary’s directions with regard to where the records are stored, just as Catholic parishes and chapels do”.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    sorry I was on the wrong page-my question was for the blessing page.

  22. Jordanes says:

    catholicmidwest said: It’s best to keep your distance on this topic if you know any SDAs. =)

    Yeah, I hear you there. :)

  23. Jayna says:

    Perhaps the priest just didn’t know if it would be or not? It seems like many run-of-the-mill parish priests simply aren’t aware of where the SSPX stands in the Church. I can tell you that mine, as well-versed in canon law as he is, probably wouldn’t know. I’ll quiz him and get back to you.

  24. Fr. Basil says:

    It could be that the SSPX priest is not releasing a copy of the baptismal certificate–or perhaps the SSPX chapel was closed, and proper documentation could not be obtained or determined.

    I will mention in the case of SDA, almost all Orthodox jurisdictions require a convert to be received by Baptism, and not by Chrismation.

  25. Ed the Roman says:

    I’ve seen Methodists re-baptize simply because a member wanted to renew his personal commitment. I was stunned.

  26. Joshua08 says:

    Lawrence, there is still the major issue of verifying that it happened. If I were a priest and had reliable witnesses, then I don’t think I would need a piece of paper. For that matter if someone came from the Episcopalians and had a certificate, I would want to inquire and perhaps get witnesses (I use them because they often do infant baptism and increasingly often do invalid ones, creator redeemer nonsense). The question is whether there is moral certitude. Someone baptised 20 years ago may or may not remember well enough, and knowing how it needed to have been done, he may remember it as it should have been rather than as it was. At least from ecclesial bodies that can be trusted to have valid baptisms (sadly becoming rarer), a certificate is some witness to that.

    Fr. Fox, the cases I know of are threefold. Either I don’t know the details, the priest left the Church, or the priest corrected himself. In the last case, this worries me in a way more. The Brisbane sort make themselves stand out. Generally of course you would trust a Catholic baptism. But if I saw the certificate was from Brisbane I wouldn’t. But see as outspoken dissidents they offer positive reason to inquire. But in one case I know a priest was letting someone else pour the water while saying the words himself, thus separating the act. When he discovered this was wrong he stopped (and I trust that he has tried to remedy past problems). But if a priest in good faith does stuff like that, not only does that speak poorly to the formation he received in seminary, it does a harm harder to detect. As I said before I doubt this is very common and most cases would be dissidents and hence more noticeable. But it does make one worry, especially with all the “baby butt” baptisms I have seen in my home diocese (I don’t know the validity of those…where the rear end is dipped…)

  27. kat says:

    LawrenceK

    The SSPX keeps copies of all sacramental records, and normally gives certificates to those who received the Sacraments. They may also send copies of the records to district headquarters, though I’m not sure of that. Any chapels that for some reason close, have all their records at the district headquarters. Mission chapels without resident priests keep their records at the priory of their main state chapel or the district.

    SSPX chapels do not consider themselves parishes in the true sense of the word (although some of the “parishioners” may call it so.) They are called chapels or missions.

  28. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Although my father had been baptized as a Congregationalist, when he came into the Church in the fifties, he was conditionally baptized.

    Back then, one of the conditions of a baptism was that it be done as the “Church intends”, even if the form and matter was correct. Back then, they figured if the Church wasn’t present/performing the baptism, the Church couldn’t be sure of the intentions, the form, the matter – or anything. There’s something to be said about a Sacrament conferred by those submitting to the Authority of the Church too.

    And a conditional baptism doesn’t hurt. I kinda wish the Church was freer with these lately. A conditional baptism removes all the subjective reasoning about who/when/why that goes on about baptisms today. I’ve seen situations of people getting indignant when their non-Catholic baptism are questioned. A return to this blanket practice for everyone might be the safest path.

    The good comments in this thread also discuss other ways of looking at this story too.

  29. Joshua08 says:

    Tina, then as now and as a 1000 years ago, the requirement is to “intend to do what the Church does”. If that is not true the baptism is invalid.

    No law can change that. No change in discipline. The Church cannot through her laws make baptisms valid or invalid

    But we need to understand that it doesn’t matter what the person baptising believes either. Never has mattered. As the Church has always and everywhere taught, even a pagan can baptise someone. An atheist can baptise someone. Heck I can believe it is utterly stupid and worship Satan and validly baptise someone.

    The rule is “intend to do what the Church does” not “intend to do what the Church intends”. A priest who is secretly an atheist can still celebrate a valid Mass and give valid absolution.

    What is sufficient is that I intend to do whatever the Church does by baptising. I might believe it doesn’t do anything, but hey Joe Smoe wants me to baptise him and so I will do whatever that is. That would be valid.

    It would not be valid if I positively intended not to. If a priest says the words “this is my body” at a dinner table, pointing to his leg, and happens to be holding some bread, he does not thereby consecrate it. If a priest has an averse intention it is not valid…

    As St. Thomas (no laxist!) stated

    the minister of a sacrament acts in the person of the whole Church, whose minister he is; while in the words uttered by him, the intention of the Church is expressed; and that this suffices for the validity of the sacrament, except the contrary be expressed on the part either of the minister or of the recipient of the sacrament.

  30. Alice says:

    I find this a bit odd and wonder if there is a back story. Most priests are loathe to baptize conditionally unless there is no baptismal record and the witnesses are either unavailable or refuse to testify (possible if they are hardcore SSPX types) or there is very good reason to doubt the validity of the baptism based on what the witnesses say. I’m wondering if the priest may not have the SSPX confused with some of the liberal Independent Catholics who might well use some invalid “gender neutral” form.

  31. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Joshua08 – I don’t mean to take this thread down a rabbit hole, especially if I am incorrect.

    Two subjects come to mind from Father’s post: 1. how people feel about the SSPX and its true standing 2. what is baptism

    I hope I am not incorrect but baptism by any other than a priest is approved only in an emergency. And I’m not sure if an unusual situation of baptism by a non-Catholic didn’t used to be with the understanding of a conditional baptism by priest later [if the recipient didn't die].

    My mother in her 90s remembers a Church that most of us can’t even imagine. So many once-common practices are on the verge of extinction and oblivion. Those that can’t possibly remember the past Church scoff at these memories as not being true. I don’t want to be incorrect when suggesting the proper practices, at the same time I fear the loss of these tenuous memories of what the Church once taught.

  32. ssoldie says:

    I would believe the validity of the SSPX baptism’s more so, then the ones done in the ‘new’ N.O. rites, as anything goes now. We have witnessed that for the last 45+ years.

  33. ChadS says:

    @Ed the Roman, Among United Methodists, at least, re-baptism isn’t merely frowned upon it is forbidden. They will do a renewal of a baptismal covenant, but it is emphasized that God didn’t break the covenant, man did. If you did indeed see a re-baptism then I would say unequivocally that you saw the actions of a renegade minister. I grew up as a United Methodist, prior to becoming Catholic, and I saw and heard of several re-baptism requests flat out denied by the minister. My infant baptism was also accepted as valid since I could provide my baptismal certificate verifying it was done with the correct trinitarian formula.