Letter to the Faithful from Archbishop Vigneron

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Earlier this month, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an important doctrinal note alerting the Church throughout the world that baptisms were not valid in which a particular word or words were changed. Specifically, to say “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” does not convey the sacrament of baptism. Rather, ministers must allow Jesus to speak through them and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

In making this clarification, the Congregation pointed to the Second Vatican Council, which reminded us that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

One of our priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit received this news with particular devastation. Father Matthew Hood, a graduate of Sacred Heart Major Seminary who sought ordination to the priesthood in June of 2017, had recently viewed a family video taken at the time of his baptism as an infant and realized the celebrating deacon decided to change the proper words (formula) to baptism, using “We baptize” as opposed to “I baptize.”

Father Hood immediately contacted the Archdiocese and the proper steps were taken to remedy his situation. He was recently validly baptized. Furthermore, since other sacraments cannot be validly received in the soul without valid baptism, Father Hood also was recently validly confirmed and validly ordained a transitional deacon and then a priest. Let us give thanks and praise to God for blessing us with Father Hood’s ministry.

The difficulty of this news is also in its impact upon the rest of us. The deacon who first attempted to baptize Father Hood, Deacon Mark Springer, used this invalid formula while assigned at St. Anastasia Parish in Troy, during the period from 1986-1999. The parish and Archdiocese of Detroit will make efforts to contact those whom the deacon attempted to baptize, so that they may receive valid sacraments. The Archdiocese has made the deacon’s identity known in an attempt to alert people whom we may not have a way to contact.

This news also impacts many who have interacted with Fr. Hood during these last three years, during which time his ability to celebrate valid sacraments has been greatly limited. More information is available here about the effect on each sacrament. The parishes where Fr. Hood has been assigned – Divine Child in Dearborn and St. Lawrence in Utica – will be working with the Archdiocese to contact those who sought out the sacraments with Fr. Hood, so that each individual’s circumstance may be examined and rectified.

As is always the case with Christ, there is hope amid this darkness. 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. Sin is a loss of sanctifying grace, but all the sacraments work according to their purpose to give and fortify sanctifying grace in the soul. This grace is a treasure of treasures and we must do everything we can to protect the integrity of the sacraments through which we receive it. It is the duty of the local Church to ensure that everyone entrusted into her care has the full benefit and certainty that come from the valid reception of the sacraments, which have been given to us to keep us as secure as possible on the path to heaven.

On behalf of our local Church, I am deeply sorry that this human error has resulted in disruption to the sacramental lives of some members of the faithful. I will take every step necessary to remedy the situation for everyone impacted. This commitment is, in part, why I write to you today, with the hope that you may assist me in identifying those in need of the sacraments. If you believe your own sacramental record may be tied to either Deacon Springer’s or Fr. Hood’s ministry, please click here to contact the Archdiocese or call your parish for more information about how to proceed.

I ask that you join me in praying for Father Hood, Deacon Springer, members of the faithful directly impacted by this situation, and for the entire Catholic community of southeast Michigan. In the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit