From a reader…
While discussing the ecclesial status of someone baptized by an SSPX priest (is the newly baptized person Catholic?), I had a troubling thought: what about someone who is baptized by a Catholic woman who has pretended to be ordained as a priest? Is that newly baptized person considered Catholic? I tend to think not, since these women have gone to non-Catholic bishops to simulate their ordination. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Thanks for all your work.
Every priest has a story about a “grandmother baptizing in the bathroom sink.” Usually it’s a pious woman, motivated by sincere faith and love for a grandchild whose parents have sadly neglected their responsibilities, or even more sadly, those parents have fallen away from the faith. Therefore sweet, loving grandma baptizes little Claudius in the bathroom sink and now wants the baptism registered as a Catholic baptism. Ideally, grandma has a witness (e.g. grandpa, or Uncle Kenny who stood guard at the door of the bathroom lest his apostate sister get suspicious), and she has used the correct formula to baptize (we can oftentimes be more certain that grandma knows and uses the correct formula than Fr. Lovebeads at Our Lady Queen of Group Process). If so, then we can go ahead and record this as a valid Catholic baptism. In that case, there can be a ceremony in which some of the things that were not done in the inform, “emergency” baptism can be “supplied”.
Holy Church, mindful of Christ’s injunction, wants everyone to be baptized, and so makes it very easy to do. While a bishop, priest, or deacon is the ordinary minister of baptism, any member of the faithful – and even an unbaptized person! – who intends to do what the Church does can validly baptize. Everyone should know the baptismal formula and be ready to use it in emergency situations. Also, it is assumed that if the person, even the unbaptized atheist, uses the correct form and pours the water properly intends, by those correct acts and words, to do what the Church intends.
So, back to the case at hand. This case is not dissimilar from the familiar “grandma in the bathroom” scenario. Except in this case, grandma is a bit more deluded. She thinks she’s a priest.
It’s sort of like watching a little boy running around pretending to be a firetruck. Pretending doesn’t make it so, but its amusing to watch.
Presuming that grandma the wannabe stuck to the formula and didn’t introduce any crazy terminology into the Trinitarian invocation, and presuming that she had some broad (no insult intended) intention to do what the Church intends, the baptism is putatively valid.
Just as in the case of the grandma and the bathroom sink, the child should be brought to a real church in short order to have the remaining ceremonies supplied, and the parents should make a good, solid confession (including confessing schism and possible heresy) to be received back into the good graces of our Holy Mother Church.