Catholic Media Outlets Blindly Fall Into Line on Matthew Hood’s Ordination

The Catholic blogoverse is all a twitter on the case of Father Matthew Hood, of the archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan. He has a video of his baptism, and it clearly shows the deacon who baptized Hood using the invalid formula of “We baptize….” That formula is certainly invalid. The idea of being baptized by the community implicitly denies the special role of the ordained to be the ordinary ministers of baptism, and the ministers of the other Sacraments. (Marriage is a complicated.) And that denial implies a denial of the special role of Christ as our Savior, and as the source of all the Sacraments. The Son was sent by the Father. The Son sends the ordained, to administer the Sacraments. It’s not the community who saves, but Christ, and His Church, through the ordained ministers who act is the person of Christ (speaking broadly). Yes, even a lay person can validly baptize. But the “We” formula nevertheless denies the role of the ordained, as they are the ordinary ministers of baptism.

However, the idea that an ordained person — deacon, priest, bishop — is not validly ordained, if they were never validly baptized, and so received Orders with the reasonable but incorrect belief that they had been validly baptized, should not be accepted blindly.

It’s wrong for Catholic media outlets and individual commentators to unthinkingly assume that Hood and others in a similar situation are not validly ordained priests. Do your job and question things! Let’s think about what this would mean.

In the case of a priest whose invalid baptism is discovered late, many persons who received absolution from him, with imperfect contrition, were not returned to the state of grace, and may have died since. Persons who received Last Rites from such a priest would be in danger of loss of salvation. Many married persons are not validly married. Confirmed persons were not validly confirmed.

Then what happens in the case of a priest whose invalid baptism is never discovered? How many confessions does a priest hear in his lifetime as a priest? How many confirmations and marriages are not valid. How many Masses were not really Masses? How many persons received a wafer of nothing but bread, because their priest isn’t really a priest? How many persons foolishly adored a circle of bread? And there is often no way of knowing with certitude if the baptism was performed correctly, especially in the case of a priest who at some point converted from a Protestant denomination. Protestant ministers do not always follow the rubrics of their denomination. They often take great “freedoms” with their ministry.

Now, what happens in the case of a Bishop, who was unknowingly never baptized? The above considerations regarding confession, confirmation, Eucharist, marriage, anointing of the sick, Last Rites, applies also to the invalidly ordained Bishop. But in addition, the ordinations which the invalid Bishop performed are not valid. And that means a much larger number of invalid priests would be found within the Church, multiplying the above problems with the invalid Sacraments many fold.

And what happens when an invalid Bishop ordains someone to the episcopal degree? You then have more invalid Bishops.

What about Apostolic succession? We can’t be absolutely certain if every Bishop is really a Bishop, unless his baptism was videotaped. Apostolic succession becomes a probability. Probably there are enough Bishops who were actually validly ordained to secure Apostolic succession. But is the Faith based on probability? Is our Church the one, holy, catholic and probably-Apostolic Church?

Finally, if some Bishops are not validly ordained to the episcopal degree, then it is a possibility that some Roman Pontiffs are not really Bishops, and therefore not really valid Popes. This places the authority of the Church, of the Magisterium, and of Ecumenical Councils in doubt. Was Pope Francis validly baptized? Does he have a video of his baptism? No? Then how do we know if his ordination is valid? And the same question can be asked of every Pope and Bishop. What is the basis of your authority, person who may or may not be a Bishop or a Pope?

The whole of the Faith becomes a matter of probability. It is unlikely that the Pope was not validly baptized. But proving that he was validly baptized is not sufficient. He would also have to prove the valid baptism of the Bishop who made him a Bishop before becoming Pope. And the same applies to all the Bishops and priests and deacons. Can you prove that you and the person who ordained you were validly baptized? Well, probably you are ordained. The Church probably has valid Bishops and valid Popes and valid Councils. The odds are pretty good! That’s what Jesus taught, right?

{10:40} Whoever receives you, receives me. And whoever receives me, receives him who sent me.
{10:41} Whoever receives a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive the reward of a prophet. And whoever receives the just in the name of the just shall receive the reward of the just.
{10:42} And whoever shall give, even to one of the least of these, a cup of cold water to drink, solely in the name of a disciple: Amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

No, that is not what Jesus taught. The Church cannot be based on probabilities. So here is my belief:

The Sacrament of Orders, received with all the conditions for a valid Sacrament of Orders having been met, is valid still in the case of a man who, at the time of his attempted reception of Orders, was unknowingly never validly baptized, if he reasonably believed himself to have been validly baptized.

Popes are still Popes. Bishops are still Bishops. Priests are still priests. Deacons are still annoying. It all works. The faith is absolutely secure, and not a matter of probabilities. And since this is the plan that makes the most sense and provides the most secure path of salvation, it is necessarily the plan of God. For God does not play dice with the Church.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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