Jackass priests who screw around with the forms (essential words) of sacraments. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

How many times over the years have I written on this blog about priests who fool around with the forms of sacrament, the necessary words to be pronounced?

How many?   A lot.

Very few things disturb people more than not being sure about the validity of a sacrament, be it Baptism, Penance or Eucharist.   I’ve dealt with literally hundreds of questions over the years via email about questionable forms being use, which really upsets people and fills them sometimes with fear.

Is my child really baptized?  Was I really absolved?  Was that really a Host he gave me?  Was Mass really said for my loved one?

FATHERS! Stop being JACKASSES and do it right!

Today the Archdiocese of Detroit made public a letter describing a terrible scenario.  In the wake of the decision of the CDF about the INVALIDITY of the form of baptism in the plural (“We baptize you…”), a priest reviewed a video of his baptism and found that he was not validly baptized.    That means that he wasn’t confirmed or ordained!  That means that all the Masses and absolutions he had given were null.   He had to be baptized, absolutely not conditionally, and then confirmed and ordained to diaconate and priesthood, absolutely.

How important is it NOT to screw around with the forms of sacraments?


ALL: If you know (not “imagine” not “suspect” not “guess”) that a priest isn’t using the proper forms for sacraments or there is something wrong with the matter of the sacraments, that priest should be immediately questioned, to be sure, and then REPORTED.

BTW… were I to discover that I wasn’t properly baptized or ordained, I would for sure request the do over with the TRADITIONAL Roman Rite, including ordination.   But my ordaining bishop isn’t available.

One of the advantages I had, was absolutely surety about validity.  With the exception of Baptism, I received all the other sacraments from official book in Latin by unquestionably competent ministers.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. iPadre says:

    Yes, this is indeed very troubling. I’ve received invalid absolution on two separate occasions, from two separate priests. I was angry and scandalized. They both should have known better. Any priest that changes the form or matter should be laicized. They are playing with eternal salvation.

  2. OssaSola says:

    So, given the story of that poor priest…any sacrament at any time could be invalid. Yes. That fills me with fear. Hoping Our Lord overlooks this at the particular judgement.

  3. mysticalrose says:

    Is there any such thing as “absolution by desire?” It seems contrary to the mercy of God to condemn a person who made a sincere confession with a priest who sincerely thought that he was a priest. I understand about the objectivity of the sacraments. This is a question not of sacramental theology, but theology proper I guess. Another way to put it: were God to permit a person to confess to a non-ordained “priest,” and then die, does it mean that He knew they lacked sufficient contrition or something? My head is in knots over this. How can any of us in the post-conciliar church be sure of anything really???

  4. mysticalrose says:

    Another question for those of us born after VII — should we all just go get conditionally baptized?

  5. TDPelletier says:

    here is what Archbishop Vigneron said on AOD’s website :

    ”The Church, following the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, recognizes that God has bound Himself *to* the sacraments, but He is not bound *by* the sacraments. This means that while we can have certainty that God always works through the sacraments when they are properly conferred by the minister, God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in a sovereign way. We can be assured that all those who approached Father Hood, in good faith, to receive the sacraments did not walk away empty-handed. We know that Our Lord, in his unending love for us, supplied some measure of grace. God is drawn to hearts that are open to Him in love.

    At the same time, the sacraments, when properly administered, are visible rites and efficacious channels through which the sanctifying grace of God flows to those who receive them with the proper disposition. Sanctifying grace is necessary for a soul to spend eternity in heaven, and valid sacramental baptism guarantees that this grace has been placed in the soul. ”

  6. mysticalrose says:

    Very helpful, TDPelletier. Thank you.

  7. monstrance says:

    This is clericalism at its worst.
    A priest who believes he is more nuanced and thoughtful than Holy Mother Church.
    A regular occurrence comes to mind:
    A priest who refuses to state “ I absolve you of your sins “ and instead uses “Jesus absolves” or even worse “ Jesus forgives you”.
    He assumes that the penitent is too ignorant to grasp the truth of In persona Christi.

  8. Charles E Flynn says:

    The CNA article has this observation:

    And the marriages? Well…it’s complicated. Some yes, some no. It depends on the paperwork, believe it or not.

  9. Fallibilissimo says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me…now I want to find out if there’s video of my baptism. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have one. I know there was some issues with the priest who didn’t want to baptize me right away (which upset my mom…still today she doesn’t speak of it in a calm tone. I think there’s more to the story so I’ll just keep it at that) and wanted to wait so that the ceremony could be done with more newborns. As such, my baptism was “delayed” a few months.

    Anyway, like Pope Francis said, I make sure to mark my baptism day and interiorly celebrate it with greater attention than my natural birthday. I also am grateful to the priest for the sacrament and should pray for him more often. Must be so disturbing to find out the opposite were true. Ultimately, if there’s not much to do about it, just leave it in God’s hands and trust Him since I’m told He’s an expert at doing good in tough cases.

  10. JustaSinner says:

    Reminds me of a certain man, born in a certain village in Kenya. ..everything he did was invalid in a certain circular office. Just sayin’!

  11. Fallibilissimo says:

    I’m not sure if it even applies, but if it could I wonder what the principle of Epikeia would look like in these cases of an invalid baptism.

  12. GM Thobe says:

    On the other hand, what an exquisite blessing for the priest to find out about it now and remedy the situation. I’m willing to wager that fidelity to the Church’s sacramental forms will be at the forefront of his mind.

  13. DJAR says:

    TDPelletier says: 22 August 2020 at 3:44 PM. MysticalRose, here is what Archbishop Vigneron said on AOD’s website : “”The Church, following the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, recognizes that God has bound Himself *to* the sacraments, but He is not bound *by* the sacraments. This means that while we can have certainty that God always works through the sacraments when they are properly conferred by the minister, God is not bound by the sacraments in that He can and does extend His grace in a sovereign way.”

    That is fine with regard to some things, but not to others, e.g., the Masses offered by the person who was not baptized and therefore not a validly ordained priest. Thus, his Masses were not valid, and nothing could have made them so. So all the people attending his “Masses” were worshipping a mere piece of bread, just as Protestants accuse us.

    And people are opposed to attendance at SSPX venues??? God help us.

    The article says the invalid baptism was conducted by a deacon, not a priest.

  14. APX says:

    Having just attended my niece and nephew’s baptism this week, I noted the priest actually wrote what words he used for baptism on the baptismal certificate.

    [Both a sad sign of the times and a good move from the priest in these sad times. Kudos.]

  15. Rob83 says:

    Theoretically this kind of thing is always possible with any sacrament, which is why it is so important for lay people to at least know what the form is supposed to be so they can recognize when it is not done properly and take action right then to have it done properly.

    I wonder – considering the ordained priesthood is so vital, would bishops ever consider conditionally baptizing their ordination candidates privately due to general doubts about baptismal formulas in the recent decades, or is that something they can only do if evidence is presented that something was done improperly in a particular priest’s case?

  16. elijah408 says:

    Now I’m worried! I was baptized by a Jesuit in California in 1971. There is no way of knowing except me having a baptismal certificate. I’m an ordained Priest now as of three years ago. Do I trust that everything that I have experienced is valid???

  17. If you are concerned, and I wouldn’t be overly concerned, talk to people who were at the baptism and ask them if they remember anything odd.

  18. Ellen says:

    Thank goodness I was baptized in 1951 when they didn’t mess around with things.

  19. Littlemore says:

    I have a question about this issue. I was baptised by my father shortly after birth in 1958 as my health had deteriorated and I was put in an incubator. Once I’d gained strength I was baptised in the parish church along with another baby (1 boy & 1 girl) by a Holy Ghost Father who had just been returned to Canada from an apostolate in Africa. My mother always maintains that we were baptised with the other babys’ name, my parents then decided to immigrate back to UK. Am I validly baptised & therefore are the other sacrements I’ve received:- Confession, 1st Holy Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage valid?

    [The combox of a blog isn’t the very best place to air these specific questions. However, it is strongly certain that you baptism was valid. In the 1950’s people were far better catechized and emergency baptism was covered. Also, if you were then taken to the parish, the priest would have “supplied” the elements omitted during the emergency baptism. The name used is not of the essence of the form of the sacrament.]

  20. tho says:

    The fruits of the Spirit of VII now make it advisable to have a Canon Lawyer accompany us when receiving a sacrament. It is all about discipline, whether it be self or imposed.

  21. Oh dear! Lets not give jackasses a bad wrap. These priests wish they were as smart as a jackass. ? They are no dummies. They know when to quit and they will not be pushed. They will steer clear of a precipice, which many priests are falling from.

  22. Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    And while we’re at it, let’s include the insertion of prayers (like the Hail Mary) at different points in the Mass. I just wish that once the Mass begins that the ad libbing would cease.

    I also think back to the days when a stadium full of people were given “General Absolution” (if my memory serves me, by Bp Hunthausen).

    In confession once, I had to remind the priest to give me a penance.

    The departure from sanctioned practice began in the 60’s.

  23. robtbrown says:

    Fallibilissimo says:

    I’m not sure if it even applies, but if it could I wonder what the principle of Epikeia would look like in these cases of an invalid baptism.

    Epikeia pertains to Justice, that in certain situations not complying with legal justice does not violate the principle of justice. For example, a car approaches a stop sign at a deserted intersection at 2:30am. He slows, and it is obvious that no vehicle is approaching. He does not stop but moves through the intersection.

    Another example: A priest friend and I were in Vienna some years ago. On foot we came to an intersection, and it was pouring rain. We had no umbrella and saw no traffic coming from either direction. We hustled across the street and were greeted by dirty looks from others.

  24. robtbrown says:

    Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    I also think back to the days when a stadium full of people were given “General Absolution” (if my memory serves me, by Bp Hunthausen).

    There are places in Europe where that is still happening.

  25. Father G says:

    An interview with Father Matthew Hood: https://youtu.be/0wIYjxZTHyA

  26. robtbrown says:

    I would rather see an interview with the deacon who decided to use We Baptise. I wonder whether the bishop will laicize him.

  27. Anneliese says:

    I thank God I was baptized as an adult. What a mess. Taylor Marshall is discussing this right now. And he’s calling the person who did the baptism a “deacon.”

  28. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    The “permanent deacon” who performed the illicit baptisms (for over a decade!) is retired now, but I think the archbishop should give him a list of dozens/hundreds of names and phone numbers of people he prevented from being validly baptized. The retired deacon would call and make a personal apology to each one, and then make arrangements for them to receive valid sacraments, starting with baptism. That alone will take weeks. Then the deacon should be laicized, as his final penance. The man has quite possibly sent people to their death as un-baptized, non-Catholics. There should be room for justice here.

  29. Fallibilissimo says:

    robtbrown, indeed it does pertain to justice. Here’s St Thomas: “when we were treating of laws, since human actions, with which laws are concerned, are composed of contingent singulars and are innumerable in their diversity, it was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case. Legislators in framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view. Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just”
    Given how unordinary and peculiar this situation is, I have to think there are situations which will arise where the principle would be applicable though I’m not sure where.

  30. Imrahil says:

    This is precisely the situation dealt with by the Angelic Teacher in Sth. Suppl. 35 III.

    Objection 2. Further, it may happen that a man is not baptized, and yet think with probability that he has been baptized. If therefore such a person present himself for Orders, he will not receive the character of Order, supposing the character of Order to presuppose the character of Baptism; and consequently whatever he does by way of consecration or absolution will be invalid, and the Church will be deceived therein, which is inadmissible.

    Reply to Objection 2. Such a man if he be ordained to the priesthood is not a priest, and he can neither consecrate, nor absolve in the tribunal of Penance. Wherefore according to the canons he must be baptized, and reordained (Extra De Presbyt. non Bapt., cap. Si quis; cap. Veniens). And even though he be raised to the episcopate, those whom he ordains receive not the Order. Yet it may piously be believed that as regards the ultimate effects of the sacraments, the High Priest will supply the defect, and that He would not allow this to be so hidden as to endanger the Church. (emphases mine)

    In this case, obviously, the videotape was the means by which Our Lord brought the fact out of its hiding. Generally, though… er… I wonder whether having videos that can serve as proof is a good idea… There is at least something in the saying “If anyone is aware of an impediment why these two ought not to be married, let him speak now or be silent forever”.

    That being said, what is so difficult about saying the right words? I quite agree.

  31. Barnacle says:

    Grr when the priest saying the NO Mass gushes ‘sisters and brothers.’ I find this so patronising. The The Black says ‘brothers and sisters,’ but he cannot miss an opportunity to show us how woke he is and display his superior sensitivity to all the poor downtrodden women in the congregation.

  32. Ceolfrith says:

    “One of the advantages I had, was absolutely surety about validity. With the exception of Baptism, I received all the other sacraments from official book in Latin by unquestionably competent ministers.”

    Yes, but how do you know those ministers received valid sacraments? All it would take is one invalidly ordained bishop somewhere in the past to wreck apostolic succession. In modern times, we’ve seen the Roman Church is incapable of assuring the legitimacy of its sacraments, so how can we have any real confidence that similar (or perhaps more severe) oversights didn’t occur in the midst of widespread corruption in the middle ages and the Renaissance? Those oversights by now could have impacted substantial sections of the heirarchs and the clergy.

    [This is useless speculation. First, the minister of baptism doesn’t need ordination in the Apostolic Succession. Ordaining bishops are themselves consecrated by THREE bishops at the same time to assure the validity of the consecration. Relax.]

  33. robtbrown says:


    I preferred to refer to the concept of Epikeia rather than quoting St Thomas, who of course considered the argument from authority to be the weakest. I had three different courses at the Angelicum in the first cycle in which there was reference to Epikeia. None of the three professors approached it textually, as “St Thomas says”, but rather conceptually.

  34. robtbrown says:

    Re why the deacon used “We Baptise”:

    1. For years clerics were encouraged to make the Novus Ordo more personal and conversational by using their own rubrics and, where possible, language. It is no secret that most theological influence on the celebration of the NO is at best only via negative governance, i.e., what the celebrant cannot do. Certain gestures from the EF with doctrinal significance were eliminated: Thus, the elevation of the host following consecration is done in the NO merely to show the people. The symbolic reference found in the EF to Christ being lifted up on the cross (cf Sacrifice) is gone.

    2. IMHO, the origin of the “We Baptise” can be attributed to the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx, whose emphasis on the Ecclesial nature of the Sacraments was distorted. For example, he thought that if all bishops were to die, priests could consecrate one because it is the Christian community who consecrates. Likewise, if all priests were to die, the laity could ordain a priest. [Yes, I think you are right about this. Schillebeeckx was shoved down our throats in seminary.]

    3. This deacon, like many others (including priests) received p-poor theological formation

  35. Fallibilissimo says:

    robtbrown, I get the impression we may be at cross purposes. I wasn’t arguing against anything you said so that I would make an argument from authority. St Thomas’ explications were, I thought, usefully relevant.

  36. philosophicallyfrank says:

    Ah! Do the Red! Considering how most celebrants do the Ordinary Form of the Mass; I wonder how they deal with; in the red; #29, #127, #132, #139, #141 and #144? While the Bishop of Orlando demands that they ignore the implication of them. I recently moved from the Orlando Diocese to the Joliet Diocese; where we are just getting a new Bishop, a Chicago Aux. Bishop. That would seem to be a bad omen; however, Springfield Bishop Paprocki was a Chicago Aux. and is a relatively fine Bishop of Springfield. He resided in the rectory of the parish that I grew-up in. It seems that St. Frances of Rome was a good influence on him.

  37. JesusFreak84 says:

    Would this also apply to people who were baptized as Protestants, since we know the Protestants have all sorts of goofy forms?

    My baptism was performed by the priest who had married my parents, and at the same time my father was received into the Church. However, when the priest was doing their pre-Cana, he told them it was a-okay to use contraception, (Mom was so happy about that,) and I KNOW their marriage was done with a form EXPLICITLY forbidden by a Motu Proprio of Paul VI about “mixed marriages.” (This was 1980, so the pio-Benedictine Code was still in effect; Paul VI wrote the MP to serve as a stop-gap to address mixed marriages while the new Code was being worked on. Most, but not all, of its dictates are now formally enshrined in Canon Law.)

    Given that I KNOW the priest screwed around with the form of my parents’ marriage, (my parents still have a transcript of the script followed, and I’ve seen that with my own eyes,) and I doubt his intentions given the pre-Cana “counsel” he gave, I’ve had doubts about my baptism and my father’s reception into the Church, on grounds of intention if nothing else, though I obviously have grounds to doubt the forms in both cases, as well. I obviously wouldn’t remember it, any anyone else who was there was so poorly educated that they wouldn’t have noticed anything fishy. This was the mid-80s, “anything goes,” nonsense in the Archdiocese of Chicago, only a couple of years after Bernadin’s appointment to that See.

    However, I suspect that, were I even conditionally “rebaptized” or however one would phrase it, my mom would probably hit the ceiling and keep going, as she brooks no criticism of this far-left priest and thinks he should be Pope. I’d pretty much HAVE to do it in secret from the rest of the family =-\ I’m mostly able to avoid thinking about if I should even pursue this, but the fact that I live in MI now and this has just come up in Detroit is causing my doubts and concerns to scream in my head at top-volume ???

  38. JesusFreak84 says:

    *The ??? was emoji; sorry! ^.^;;;

  39. Pingback: PopeWatch: Say the Black, Do the Red ! – The American Catholic

  40. Stepheno says:

    Our pastor was confirming during the pandemic in small groups. He called one kid back and redid it because he wasn’t sure and may have made a mistake. My respect already very high for him increased

  41. JesusFreak84 says:

    Stepheno, that’s awesome! It probably also increases the odds that the Bishop is comfortable with the priest doing Confirmations in the future, since that’s not the norm.

  42. Imrahil says:

    Dear JesusFreak84,

    on grounds of intention if nothing else

    – That would be wrong. It is true you often hear that idea, especially from laymen like myself who have heard that a sacrament requires form, matter and intention, as if “intention” were sort-of a backdoor for “this minister is not quite Catholic [which may well be the case!], so his sacrament is dubious”.

    Whereas, as long as the minister keeps to the form without expressly, if hiddenly, intending not to do what the Church does, we actually are on the safe side as far as intention goes.

    There remains your other concern whether the form was valid; but with the intention you should be on the safe side.

    (The practical point about intention is, say, that a piece of bread somebody placed between the candles standing on an altar, not to be seen, is not turned into the Blessed Sacrament – Father’s intention to consecrate only was directed to the hosts on the paten.)

    (As for the form, if it was me I would go so far as to look at my baptism certificate and if it says “baptized” with a signature, I’d think “and if that is a false statement, I can’t know about it anyway, so let God sort it out”. But that is in any case a different matter.)

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