Catholic Church Risks Alienating Thousands Over Baptismal Wording

Tim J. McGuire

The pandemic has banned many Roman Catholics from practicing Sunday Mass.

For some, this absence prompted serious reflection on what the Mass and their church meant to them. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has chosen this inopportune moment to delve into politics by threatening to ban pro-choice politicians to receive Communion.

The threats have caused some Catholics to question whether the church is more interested in pastoral care or political power around the admittedly difficult pro-life/pro-choice issues.

These are not abstract problems for the residents of the valley. There are problems right here in the desert city.

This raises serious questions about baptism

A local pastor has resigned from his post 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 these pronouns and Bishop Thomas Olmsted accepted him.

Worse still, hundreds of baptisms are now being seriously questioned over a pronoun causing deep anguish as to whether they are legitimately baptized. The anguish of the local diocese does not seem equipped to appease him.

From my readings, it seems there is a theological reason for this, but this explanation seems to me to be a bureaucratic way of insisting that all power in the sacraments must emanate from the priests.

here is the explanation of the archdiocese as reported by USA Today Monday night. “The diocese explained that the one incorrect word counts for the faithful because ‘it is not the community that baptizes a person and integrates him into the Church of Christ; it is rather Christ, and Christ alone, who presides over all the sacraments. ”

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

Alienate thousands on a pronoun?

It may be 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 will perceive as penny ante semantics?

Is ecclesiastical power so important that we want to risk alienating thousands of Catholics over a pronoun fight that does not nurture parishioners with spiritual goodness and guidance?

The answer here seems simple to this Catholic still reeling from the power games of the church. Show the priest the error of his ways. Do not force the priest to resign from his position as pastor. Understand that the Jesus of love and forgiveness appreciates that all of these people are, in fact, baptized.

Our country is plagued with arguments over almost everything. A pastoral church should be busy caring for an exhausted congregation desperately seeking help through these very difficult times.

Will my church be there for me?

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

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

My parents took us to church to pray for peace and sanity. Our church in the middle of Michigan was jammed that night. I have never forgotten the power of the Catholic community in the service of spiritual needs.

But it happened again September 11, 2001.

In the depths of fear and despair, my late wife and I accompanied our children to church that evening in search of comfort and wisdom.

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

I fear that is no longer the case. A church seemingly concerned with political division, a church that wants to respond to single issue politics, and a church that wants to deny that people have been properly baptized on pronouns may no longer be my answer.

It makes me incredibly sad.

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

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