Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.J.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11
I write regarding the issue of any otherwise validly-ordained Catholic priest, whose baptism is discovered to have been invalid.
Denzinger 741 (43rd ed.) contains the letter of Pope Innocent II to the Bishop of Cremona on the case of a presbyter, who was discovered, after his death, to have never been baptized. The response of the Pontiff seems to indicate that the Sacrament of Orders was nevertheless valid, as he refers to the man as a presbyter and does not require any Sacraments to be administered again, as has been required by the Apostolic See in other cases, such as of heretics reconciled to the Faith whose Sacraments were not judged to be valid.
In the case of priests, if the Apostolic See were to judge that Orders is never valid, unless the candidate validly received the Sacrament of Baptism, then the salvation of souls is endangered, often with no apparent remedy:
* in the case of a person who attempts Confession having only imperfect contrition;
* in the case of the contribution toward salvation of other Sacraments, lost due to their invalidity:
Confirmation, Eucharist, some cases of Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick;
* in the case of Last Rites, all three Sacraments would be invalid, greatly endangering salvation;
Sometimes the invalid baptism is discovered in time, so that Sacraments might be administered again. But other times the invalid baptism might be discovered a long time afterward, with some recipients of Sacraments having passed away, or might never be discovered. A judgment that Orders is invalid leaves many souls in danger. Could this really be the plan of God for His faithful?
Worse is the case of Bishops: if Orders is not valid, then there would remain some undiscovered cases of persons who were never validly baptized, apparently ordained as Bishops, who would absolutely lack, not only the ability to validly administer any Sacraments except baptism and (in some cases) marriage, but also would lack true Apostolic succession, Apostolic authority, and the Apostolic charism needed to exercise the Magisterium and to participate in the infallible teaching authority of Ecumenical Councils and of the ordinary universal Magisterium.
Furthermore, if a Bishop was not validly baptized, then all the priests he attempted to ordain are not validly ordained, even if they were validly baptized. And we might never discover which Bishops actually lack a valid baptism, and therefore lack valid ordination to the episcopal degree. Then, too, if a Bishop, who was not validly baptized, ordains other Bishops, their ordinations to the episcopal degree are not valid, and neither are their ordinations of men to the priesthood valid.
In fact, the entire claim of the Catholic Church to Apostolic succession goes from a certitude and an article of faith, to a question of probability. How often would a priest or Bishop not have had a valid baptism, and what are the odds that this would disrupt Apostolic succession. The odds are admittedly low that Apostolic succession would be broken by this type of unknown invalid baptism. But does Apostolic succession rest upon odds, or is it a certitude? If the valid reception of Orders depends upon a valid baptism, then Apostolic succession is not certain, especially in the early Church, when a formula for baptism was not in anything like Canon law, and the number of Bishops was small.
Then the situation becomes intolerable in the case of the Roman Pontiff: if Orders is not valid, due to an unknowing absence of a valid Sacrament of Baptism, then the faithful can never be certain which Popes are valid, as no one is a valid Roman Pontiff who is not validly ordained as a Bishop. This would endanger the teaching of Popes and the authority of Ecumenical Councils, and the whole of the Faith.
And this raises the related case of the layperson who was never validly baptized, who attempts to receive the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, and Anointing of the Sick. The path of salvation is greatly endangered, if that person has, perhaps for many years, been invalidly attempting to receive the Sacraments, in order to reach eternal life, and fails by invincible ignorance to obtain the salvific benefits of the Sacraments. Does the mercy of God fail to reach that person, specifically through the Sacraments, despite his or her innocence regarding the lack of baptism?
If valid Orders depends upon valid baptism, then the path of salvation and the authority as well as the nature itself of the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church is placed in doubt.
On the other hand, if holy Orders remains valid — due to invincible ignorance, at the time of the reception of Orders, regarding the absence of valid baptism, due also to the baptism of desire, as indicated by the candidate’s prayerful life of love, faith, and hope, and by the devout reception of other Sacraments, and due to an otherwise valid reception of Orders — then the salvation of the faithful is not endangered by unknowingly invalid Sacraments, and neither is the authority of Bishops, Popes, and Ecumenical Councils placed in doubt. And Apostolic succession becomes a certitude, not a probability. Such a plan for the Sacrament of Orders secures the path of salvation and the authority of the Church Herself, and is therefore not only the better plan, but the plan for the Sacraments and the Church which must have been chosen by God. For God would not design the Sacraments so as to make the path of salvation and the authority of the Church a matter of probability.
Dubium 1: Whether 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, though he reasonably believed himself to have been validly baptized?
Dubium 2: Whether the Sacrament of Orders is invalid in the case of a candidate, who, at the time of his attempted reception of Orders, knew that he had never been validly baptized, and yet attempted to receive the Sacrament of Orders with this knowledge hidden, that is, with deception, as he did not intend to do what the Church does in the Sacrament of Orders?
Dubium 3: Whether the reception of the Sacraments of Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, Marriage, and Anointing of the Sick are validly received by a person who, at the time of reception, was unknowingly never validly baptized, but instead reasonably believed himself to have been validly baptized?
in Christ, our Lord
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
PO Box 3256
Oak Bluffs, MA 02557
Note added to the blog post only: I have sent this letter to the CDF because this matter is of grave importance to the whole Church. The letter does not mention Fr. Matthew Hood, but rather speaks in general of the problems caused by the assumption that Orders is invalid. Please do not comment saying I should not send this letter. It is sent.