Does the Catholic Church really want to alienate thousands over baptism wording?

Father Andres Arango distributes Holy Communion while wearing a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Gordon Hall at St. Gregory's Catholic Church in Phoenix on May 10, 2020.
Father Andres Arango distributes Holy Communion while wearing a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic at Gordon Hall at St. Gregory's Catholic Church in Phoenix on May 10, 2020.

The pandemic prohibited many Roman Catholics from their Sunday Mass practice.

For some, that absence prompted a serious reflection on what Mass and their church meant to them. The National Conference of Catholic bishops chose that inopportune time to immerse itself in politics with threats to ban pro-choice politicians from receiving Communion.

The threats made some Catholics wonder deep thoughts about whether the church was more interested in pastoral care or political power around the admittedly difficult pro-life/pro-choice issues.

These are not abstract issues for Valley residents. There is trouble right here in the desert city.

This raises serious questions about baptism

A local pastor has resigned his position because for years he said “we baptize you in the name” rather than the church dictated “I baptize you in the name.”

Really. He resigned over those pronouns and Bishop Thomas Olmsted accepted it.

Even worse, hundreds of baptisms are now being brought into serious question about a pronoun causing deep angst over whether they are legitimately baptized. Angst the local diocese does not seem equipped to assuage.

From my reading it appears there is a theological reason for this, but that explanation strikes me as a bureaucratic way to insist that all power in sacraments must emanate from priests.

Here is the archdiocese explanation as reported by USA Today late Monday. “The diocese explained that the single incorrect word matters for worshippers because ‘it is not the community that baptizes a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments.’ ”

“There, it is Christ who baptizes,” the diocese said. “If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized.”

Alienate thousands over a pronoun?

Perhaps it is an intellectually cheap argument, but in the name of all that is good and holy, what would Jesus do?

Does our Catholic faith, built on a Gospel of love and kindness, really want to play what many are going to perceive as penny ante semantics?

Is ecclesiastical power so important that we want to risk alienating thousands of Catholics over a pronoun fight, which doesn’t feed the parishioners with spiritual goodness and guidance?

The answer here seems simple to this lifelong Catholic shaken by the church’s power games. Show the priest the error of his ways. Don’t make the priest resign as pastor. Understand that the Jesus of love and forgiveness appreciates that all these people are, in fact, baptized.

Our country is rife with arguments about almost everything. A pastoral church should be busy caring for an exhausted congregation desperately in search of help navigating these very tough times.

Will my church be there for me?

Two dramatic events from the last 65 years have played a huge role in my Catholic life.

The first was the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev went to the brink of nuclear destruction.

My parents marched us off to church to pray for peace and sanity. Our church in mid-Michigan was jammed that night. I have never forgotten the power of Catholic community in service of spiritual need.

But it occurred again on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the depths of fear and despair, my late wife and I marched our kids to church that night in search of solace and wisdom.

My church has always been there for me during some intensely personal crises.

I am frightened that is no longer the case. A church seemingly intent on political division, a church that wants to cater to single-issue politics and a church that wants to deny people were correctly baptized over pronouns may not be my answer any more.

That makes me phenomenally sad.

Tim J. McGuire, J.D. was the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 1991 to 2002. He served as president of the former American Society of Newspaper Editors and held the Frank Russell Chair for the Business and Future of Journalism at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism from 2006 to 2016. He has dabbled at the periphery of theology with courses at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Catholic Church risks alienating thosands over baptism wording