ASK FATHER: Is baptism by fake women ‘priests’ valid?

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. We are manic infant baptisers in my family. One of my nephews was baptised a total of five times, except of course that only one of them actually counted, and that was the one where he got the certificate.

    Show us a new baby, and we have to be wrestled away from the bathroom tap. It’s probably some kind of OCD thing.

  2. APX says:

    I have yet to hear a woman “priest” use the proper Trinitarian formula (doesn’t use gender inclusive language), rather “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier”. There were a number of priests in Canada who started using the same formula for baptism. Validity came into question, and the Church indicated that such baptisms were invalid.

  3. Michael_Thoma says:

    What about the hypothetical scenario of a Mormon, Unitarian, Oneness Pentecostal, Jehovah Witness, (insert other defective theology group here) grandma and/or clergywoman?

    I assume invalid?

  4. Joseph Revesz says:


    I would bet that the baby was “baptized” in the name of the “creator, redeemer and sanctifier”. I would treat the “baptism” as a nullity. [That would be invalid, for sure.]

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Joseph Revesz: The Church can’t just make assumptions. That’s why these things have to be investigated a bit. (And most families do video recordings of Baptisms these days, so it probably wouldn’t be difficult to find out.)

  6. Jackie L says:

    Setting aside, that I doubt they use the correct formula(too masculine). I tend to be more skeptical, though maybe it is my utter distaste of the Fishwrap types, and their damaging games of pretend. I’m not sure the “intention to do what the Church intends” can be assumed. The Mormon Church, even though it uses the correct formula, does not have a valid baptism due to intent. If a child in my family were baptized by one of these women, I’d do it again myself.

  7. PhilipNeri says:

    “Fr. Lovebeads at Our Lady Queen of Group Process”!!!

    I may have — at last — found a replacement for my standard “Fr. Hollywood at Our Lady of Warm Hugs”! And “Sr. Moonbeam at St. Candi’s.”


    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  8. APX says:

    Jackie, the issue with intent and lds baptisms is they do not intend to baptize under the same trinity as Catholics. [Mormon baptism is invalid.]

  9. While the baptism is putatively valid, does the fake women ‘priest’ confer a sacrilege upon herself by attempting to pose as a priest in the administration of a sacrament? [Simulating a sacrament as if you were a priest brings canonical penalties.]

  10. frjim4321 says:

    Joseph is right.

    Almost by definition a WRCP would use an invalid formula.

    “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” is not a valid formula for many reasons, a major one being that formulation says nothing about the interrelation of the three persons.

  11. Kathleen10 says:

    This is a big deal and news to me. I knew in emergencies people can baptize, but did not know one could do this and it actually “takes”, in non-emergency situations. [What I wrote isn’t license to baptize at will.] One possible scenario immediately comes to mind. There are actually many people in situations where the children in the family are not allowed (because of atheist parents) to be baptized. What pain and worry this would cause grandparents or relatives, over the soul of that little one.
    So Grandma’s baptism is licit, [valid] as long as she follows the approved rite. It “takes” and the child is baptized. Grandma would need holy water and to know the written rite.
    Of course it’s not ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. What is important is the children be baptized.
    This is really important and I thank you for sharing this Fr. Z. [Don’t just baptize kids as it pleases.]

  12. Pastor in Valle says:

    Interestingly, of course, this is how St Athanasius’ vocation was discovered by St Alexander, his patron. As a boy, Athanasius was seen ‘playing’ baptisms on the seashore, and the bishop saw it and recognized that he was actually validly baptizing his friends.

  13. Nun2OCDS says:

    When a Christian from another faith community is received into the Catholic Church (pertaining to their valid baptism) why are not “some of those things not done . . . ‘supplied'”?

  14. JARay says:

    The quote you give Father about Grandma baptising her grandchild is actually true in the case of my granddaughter. My wife told me that she had baptised our granddaughter because my son failed to do so. I told her that she had no business doing it and that she should not have done so. She asked me why and I told her that at her baptism, our granddaughter was given the gift of Faith and because of the indifference of our son and indeed the hostility of his wife, there is no chance that this gift of Faith could be developed as it should be. In other words, this gift of Faith has been stillborn and that is why it should not have been done. I knew nothing about my wife’s intentions. She merely took it upon herself to do it. I spend time daily praying for both my son and my granddaughter.

  15. Dennis Martin says:

    If St. Athanasius was truly “playing” baptism then the “baptisms” were not valid. If one is “playing” at baptizing one does not have the intent that the Church intends, namely, to transform the person baptized into a Christian, remove sins etc.

    Otherwise the sacrament would become mere magic.

    However a non-Christian or atheist, if he said the proper words and used genuine water and if he intended to carry out the wish of the person being baptized to become a Christian and be transformed, then that baptism would be valid because, even though the atheist did not believe in Christ or the Church or baptism, if his intent was to do what the Church does in baptism, in order to please his friend-baptizee, the baptism would be valid.

    At least so I have been taught.

    In the case of St. Athanasius, it would turn on the child Athanasius’s intent. Does the story give any clues? Is it clear that he was merely “playing”??

  16. Elizabeth D says:

    St Athanasius’ boyhood bishop answers I was just about to ask, what if a kid (or adult) was at the public swimming pool, and asked his friends if they wanted to be baptized and be Christians and they said okay, and he baptized them with a valid formula in the swimming pool?

  17. jilly4life says:

    I would be more interested in whether a valid formula used by a “womanpriest” inside of their own community, makes a person Catholic and subject to ecclesiastical law? We know that Orthodox and most protestants (and almost anyone) can validly baptize, but those baptisms do not always make one Catholic and subject to Cannon law. So does being baptized and raised inside a “womenpriest” community make you effectively protestant and thus you would have to make a profession of faith in order to enter the Catholic Church? (obviously the Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and confession (hahaha) would be invalid). Or does the belief that they are Catholic, mean that they are actually initiating people into the Catholic Church (assuming of course that they use the correct formula)? I can see this both ways, as some Anglicans believe that they are “Catholic” but that doesn’t mean those they baptize are subject to ecclesiastical law, but for others like the SPXX, it seems those they baptize are still subject to the law.

  18. Alice says:

    Despite my parents’ best efforts (we’re talking homeschooling, Baltimore Catechism, etc.), my sister quit practicing her religion in her early teens and did not have her child baptized. Relatives told us to baptize the baby ourselves when we were babysiting, but I was taught that one does not baptize a child who is not in immediate danger of death against his parents’ wishes. Would it be sinful to do so, though? It seems like baptizing illicitly would be a mortal sin under the normal circumstances, but I’ve never seen it stated that it is.

  19. WGS says:

    Holy water is not required for baptism. Water is required. However specifically “living water” is preferred. I think that “living water” refers to naturally running water such as the River Jordan.

  20. Elizabeth D says:

    jilly4life, the “womenpriests” thing (or more generally the “WomenChurch” movement in the form where they are really trying to create a feminist parallel church and “feminist sacramental system” according to their own criteria) is like a new kind of protestantism, distinct from the old protestantism but just as profound a break. And from what I have seen none of these groups want or intend that Canon Law applies to them. So I would say that where standalone communities exist with their own “parishes” and invalidly ordained “priests” it has to be seen as similar to the situation of protestant communities, where IF a valid baptismal formula is used (and of course, this is not necessarily the case with “womenpriests”) then Baptism is valid, but the child does not become Catholic. Again, these communities are not centered on a valid Eucharist and they do not want or intend that Canon Law applies to them so I do not see how their intentions correspond to actually baptizing children into the Catholic Church, since a baptized Catholic child becomes subject to Catholic Canon Law. Apparently the adults do not intend to raise the child to live up to his or her obligations as a Catholic. That is my own assessment and if someone has a more official answer I’d like to hear it.

  21. Gaetano says:

    I would be shocked if a wymyn priest didn’t use invalid Modalist trinitarian formula (“Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier”), which would, of course, render the baptism invalid.

  22. Kathleen10 says:

    Can someone give an idea of when it would be permissible to conduct such a baptism? What kind of context are we talking about? Would the grandparent situation qualify? Just for the record, my grandsons are baptized, thanks be to God, but this situation is one I have heard of, where grandchildren have not been baptized. How terrible for grandparents!
    I am very curious if JARay is correct in thinking it was not actually a good thing his granddaughter was baptized by his wife, because the child’s faith would not be developed. Is this accurate? Isn’t it always better to be baptized? If one needs to be baptized to go to heaven, is it possible such a baptism makes all the difference? If that is so, then it seems far better to do it, but I am not understanding when the situation would call for it and if the grandparent scenario qualifies. Thanks all.

  23. Volanges says:

    I’m one of those grandmothers whose grandchildren are not baptized. My daughter is not validly married and goes to Mass at Christmas. That’s it. They intend to let the boys decide what they want to do.

    I have to talk myself out of baptizing H&G every time I’m lucky enough to be giving them a bath. Like JARay, I know that only in if they are in danger of dying am I allowed to baptize them. Since the Church says that even the priest should delay Baptism unless he has a reasonable expectation that the child will be brought up in the Faith, how much less does she want us to take it upon ourselves to confer the sacrament because the parents won’t do it. To make my grandsons subject to a code of law that they would likely never hear about would not be the best thing for them — although it would allow me to sleep better at night.

  24. APX says:


    It would be in danger of death. Our priest told us that we are morally obligated to perform an emergency baptism on any “infant” (person under the age of reason) in the danger of death, even if the parents strongly object.

  25. The Cobbler says:

    “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.”
    But only sort of like it, since the little boy knows perfectly well that’s he’s playing pretend. My wife likes to tell the story of the time her little sister was playing that one of their stuffed animals was talking with them, but when she tried to play along little sister condescendingly informed her that he’s just a toy and can’t talk!

  26. Thank you for this instructive post Father Z!

    Shortly after delivery, our firstborn son stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. It turned out he had a serious genetic defect and his heart was located on the right side of his chest. With distilled water and my wife and nurse present, I reached under his oxygen tent and Baptized him in the Trinitarian Formula.

    He had open heart surgery 2 days later and 3 months later, the ceremony was completed in our Parish with other babies.

    Our son, although he has significant special needs, celebrated his 13th birthday last year – even though the doctors said he wouldn’t see his first birthday and didn’t want to perform the heart surgery.

    I thank our Almighty and Merciful God that He permits us to perform these ’emergency’ Baptisms and I hope and pray more people realize the importance of this Holy Sacrament.

  27. Lucchesi says:

    Fr. Z, I think that this issue needs to be further investigated.

    Here in Brazil there’s a Schismatic/Protestant group that calls itself the “Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church” (“Igreja Católica Apostólica Brasileira”).

    Since the group broke away in 1945, they use a (modified?) Portuguese translation of the Vetus Ordo, as far as I know.

    Anyway, their baptisms, while (I imagine) still keep the Trinitarian formula, are however considered invalid (or doubtful at least) by the actual Catholic Church, due to lack of proper intention.

    What I mean is that there is a precedent to questioning baptisms on the basis of the lack of proper intention, even when the correct formula is used.

    Maybe this could also be the case with women “priests”: their intention is not to do what the Church has always done, but to create a new church (away from Peter).

    (of course that is not the case with groups that were never Catholic in our lifetimes)

  28. ocleirbj says:

    I have always understood that a non-Catholic baptism which uses the proper trinitarian formula makes the baptized person a Christian, but not a Catholic. When I converted from the Anglican [Episcopal in the U.S.] church, my baptism was considered valid, but my confirmation was not. So, I expect that if the Catholic “womanpriest” were to baptize someone using the traditional formula, the person would similarly be considered a Christian, but not a Catholic.

  29. Kathleen10 says:

    catholicservant, what an incredible thing to do. Your fatherly heart and mind were certainly in the right place to think of that. What an amazing time for you all. God bless your boy and your family.
    I will assume that on the topic of laypeople baptizing it is only for emergency situations such as yours.

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    “We know that Orthodox and most protestants (and almost anyone) can validly baptize, but those baptisms do not always make one Catholic and subject to Cannon law. So does being baptized and raised inside a “womenpriest” community make you effectively protestant and thus you would have to make a profession of faith in order to enter the Catholic Church? (obviously the Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and confession (hahaha) would be invalid). Or does the belief that they are Catholic, mean that they are actually initiating people into the Catholic Church (assuming of course that they use the correct formula)?”

    I wasn’t able to comment on this over the weekend because my phone went haywire (what a great word) and I have dial-up.

    Let us be clear, all sacramental graces come through the Catholic Church, either directly or remotely. There is no such thing as a Protestant baptism. If some one is validly baptized, they are baptized Catholic. That does not, however, mean that they will not be indoctrinated into a different set of beliefs by their parents or culture after they are baptized. All Protestants are baptized as Catholics and then become Protestants after the fact. As such, when they stop being under the purview of Canon Law is a tricky matter. For instance, Protestants validly and sacramentally marry because their marriage constitutes, essentially, an emergency situation, since, by their ignorance of the truth, they will not have access to a Catholic priest for at least a month and so, Can. 1116 kicks in. Without this exception, in my opinion, there would be no sacramental marriage under the current law, because of a defect in form. I am not talking about natural marriages, which any male and female can contract, but, specifically, marriages under religion.

    It has been decided by the Holy See that there is no such thing as a formal defection from the Catholic Church any longer (see, Omnium in mentem), so, it is at least arguable that every baptized person should be subject to Canon Law, but because of ignorance, error, or social conditioning, there is a lack of recognition of that fact and so, by virtue of Luke 12: 47 – 48 will receive fewer stripes than a Catholic who knows his obligations.

    Hope that helps. Jimmy Akin had a long discussion about thus on his blog a few years ago (I can’t find his explanation regarding when “Protestanization” of a baptized person begins):

    The Chicken

  31. dans0622 says:

    The Masked Chicken: when Protestants “stop being under the purview of Canon Law” is not tricky. As of now, they are never directly under the purview of ecclesiastical law (1983 Code, canon 11). In the past (1917 Code, for example), ecclesiastical law, generally, bound “the baptized” (see c. 12 of that Code) but then baptized non-Catholics were exempted from certain laws. One such exemption was from the requirements of canonical form (1917 Code, c. 1099). The 1983 Code, likewise, says the canonical form of marriage binds Catholics (c. 1117). So, Protestants can validly marry with no regard for canonical form not because they are somehow in an emergency situation but because they are not bound to canonical form.

    The Church certainly can bind all the baptized to any ecclesiastical law or bind only those who are juridically/legally part of the Catholic Church. For the foreseeable future, I think we can be pretty confident that only those who are legal members of the Church will be bound to her law.

  32. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I think we can be pretty confident that only those who are legal members of the Church will be bound to her law.”

    Who, exactly are those? One cannot defect from the Church, formally. Can. 11 says:

    “Can. 11 Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age.”

    There is no such thing as a Protestant baptism. One is baptized Catholic, period, if one is baptized, at all. With the changes because of Omnium in mentem, things are a little bit different than when the 1983 Code came into existence. Who is under the Law is more complicated.

    Here is a comment from Ed Peters:

    In a related article, he notes:

    “All of this deals with one’s juridic (legal) status as a Catholic. It does not deal with other forms of union one may have with the Catholic Church, such as the moral obligations one has toward the Church, even when one is in rebellion against it. The Code itself acknowledges the existence of certain continuing legal obligations to the Church, even after a formal defection. Canon 11 states that ecclesiastical laws bind those baptized or received into the Catholic Church, but the Code nowhere makes express provision for the corresponding legal obligations to be obviated when a person defects from the Church (except in a few cases, such as observing the Catholic form of marriage). Thus, for example, a priest who formally has defected from the Church is still bound by his vow of celibacy.”

    See, here:

    The Chicken

  33. Mother says:

    “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.”

  34. dans0622 says:

    “Who, exactly are those?” Practically, it is those whose baptism has been recorded in a Catholic parish’s register of baptisms.

  35. j says:

    With mainline Trinitarian Protestant denominations, we can PRESUME the correct form has been used, so accept their Baptisms as valid. As they adopt less stringent standards, doubt has crept in (contrasting with the SSPX, which undisputably has those standards, and does Catholic Baptisms).
    With Baptism by grandma, we have doubt as to form, but none as to intent, and this is presumed, out of charity and “desire” to have been valid. Supplying Baptism is done with Protestant and “grandma” Baptisms to erase doubt.
    With womynpriests, there is no presumption that a valid form, and hence valid baptism took place. They intentionally use God, Creator, Father/Mother, progeny, hence have no true intention to baptize Catholically. Hence, invalid, and to be Baptized Catholic a new, and NOT supplying Baptism would be needed.

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