Is the Church simply wrong?

A big advantage for ‘born’ Catholics like me is that the Church is very clear on its statements of doctrine and morality. Yet I find today that it is not invariably helpful. I read that a priest in the US has for many years failed to baptise his flock. How come?

Apparently, he used the phrase “We baptise you” rather than “I baptise you” And he has been told, by his bishop, that all the baptisms have been failures because only Christ who baptises, not the community. Why would a priest ever think that the force of baptism comes either from himself or from the community? That force can come only from Christ. Are we to suppose that all the people he baptised, and have died, are now in Limbo for ever — rather than in Heaven?

I have always had some concern over the concept of Limbo. I don’t know how many human beings have lived and died over thousands of years without the opportunity of baptism. Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that all these millions, not just babies, have basically missed their relationship with God. I am inclined to have to choose between God in this matter, or the Church in its wish to protect its apparent iniquities.

What do you think?

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42 Responses to Is the Church simply wrong?

  1. GD says:

    Summa Theologica, III, q.8.3

    I answer that, This is the difference between the natural body of man and the Church’s mystical body, that the members of the natural body are all together, and the members of the mystical are not all together–neither as regards their natural being, since the body of the Church is made up of the men who have been from the beginning of the world until its end–nor as regards their supernatural being, since, of those who are at any one time, some there are who are without grace, yet will afterwards obtain it, and some have it already. We must therefore consider the members of the mystical body not only as they are in act, but as they are in potentiality. Nevertheless, some are in potentiality who will never be reduced to act, and some are reduced at some time to act; and this according to the triple class, of which the first is by faith, the second by the charity of this life, the third by the fruition of the life to come. Hence we must say that if we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely.

  2. ignatius says:

    GD..thats brilliant to elaborate some? in your own words of course.

    • GD says:

      Well … just that the ‘church through Christ’ is more than the ‘Catholic institution’. ….. (Not denigrating the ‘Roman Church’ in any way! Even if it isn’t ‘official’ teaching. Just a statement). … All creation is under the ‘grace’ that God would have it accept; not as man would ‘see’ it as acceptable. …. Just can’t get away from the ‘hypothesis’ that what God created will be … and God created all in God’s image & likeness; and so it will be as such. (Whatever that eventually is!). … (Comes down to communion through the ground of Being for me) ….. From notes made in 2006 …… ‘All are in (partial?) communion in as much as they accept the ‘ground of being’ that keeps all in existence; it is this ‘ground’ that enables communion (& existence) in the first place. And deeper, more fuller communion, the more fully that ‘ground’ itself is accepted and lived. It (The Trinity through Christ in Christian terminology) is the only true communion.’ ……… That is not ‘known’ fully by any. There is always more ‘Trinity’ to discover / grow into / imitate / live. (Whatever that may be).

  3. ignatius says:

    “Why would a priest ever think that the force of baptism comes either from himself or from the community? That force can come only from Christ…”
    Quentin, What makes you think that is what he intended to mean? Quite possibly he thought that was just the wording and that the church baptises, as it doe, in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy spirit. It is difficult ,of course, when the wording of sacramental liturgy is wrongly used. But the liturgy is not magical in nature and so I would personally have just corrected the man and quietly carried on ..If however the church sees the wording as absolute then of course it has to re baptise,…and maybe figure out a rite for the wrongly baptised dead….even more difficult I guess.

  4. David Smith says:

    // Good morning. Today, I am questioning whether the Church has made a bit of a muck-up?


    Quentin //

    Yah, I’m afraid so. Too human, too mind focused. It’s following the proud Anglicans into the superficially exciting way of thinking and acting of the hubristic forebrain. It held out longer than most, but it succumbed. It was first lazy and inattentive, and then it simply fell asleep.

    Beauty perishes. The flower blooms and withers. The way of all life.

    • Brian Hamill says:

      I heard that once upon a time it was discovered that the sacristan of a major Church in Rome had been watering down the wine for communion and selling off the surplus. This meant that, ritually speaking, all the Masses celebrated with the doctored wine were invalid and their Mass intentions unfulfilled. Consternation! The matter was put to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority in the City for resolution. The answer came back ‘The treasury of the Church will suffice’.In lay-speak this means ‘We haven’t a clue, but think that the Lord Jesus is not so narrowminded as some of us sinners are; so carry on and try not to allow it to happen again’. Now that is just the sort of reply which should have been given concerning the ‘invalid’ baptisms in the USA. God’s mind is bigger that ours when all is said and done.

  5. John Candido says:

    The difference between using ‘we’ & ‘I’ is the former emphasises the Christian community as the body of Christ, to a new humility, and a de-emphasis of the hierarchical church and its authority through the baptismal liturgy.

    The latter ‘I’ isn’t a polar opposite but emphasises the authoritative church is executing its liturgy of baptism according to a detailed rubric of form and function.

    Limbo may have prevailed as a speculative belief of the faithful in past times but has been recently decreed by the church as ‘invalid’ to paraphrase the church’s pronouncement in one of its documents.

    • milliganp says:

      Canon 861 states that any person (including a non-christian) can baptise with the words “I baptise you” so it has nothing to do with hierarchical structure or community.

      • John Candido says:

        If Canon 861 states that anyone, including any non-Christian, can baptise any person by saying, “I baptise you”, why is the bishop concerned about the words chosen by that priest in a baptism he conducted?

  6. ignatius says:

    John, Thanks for these links, about time the thing was looked into a bit more.

    • John Candido says:

      Yes, I agree that the idea of infants dying without baptism or in this controversial circumstance where a priest conducted baptisms with deviations from its liturgical text remain in limbo and suffering in perpetuity.

      Ask yourself, would God allow a single innocent child who may have perished in a car accident before getting baptised or because their parents have come into serious conflict with the church over an issue and have refused their child to get baptised subsequently dies in hospital due to an illness?

      Of course not!

      God isn’t a spiteful idiot and would never allow such an outcome for a tiny innocent baby to become subject to eternal punishment.

      It’s iconoclastically crazy, which is why the catholic church has ruled against the speculative doctrine of limbo, regardless of its provenance, as utter theological nonsense.

      How could the church in all conscience rule otherwise?

  7. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( ) :

    // Apparently, he used the phrase “We baptise you” rather than “I baptise you” And he has been told, by his bishop, that all the baptisms have been failures … Are we to suppose that all the people he baptised, and have died, are now in Limbo for ever — rather than in Heaven? //

    That’s an example of why I can probably never become a practising Catholic again: I’m not respectful enough either of authority or of its pronouncements.

    I have no idea what this brouhaha is all about. One important thing I’ve learned over the years is that “journalists” cannot be trusted to get anything right, although they seem to have great faith in themselves. Journalism at its best is still just impressionistic gossip. But whatever’s going on, it’s academic and legalistic and I couldn’t care less. But to the practising Catholics involved, it has to be important stuff. I can no longer go there and do that.

    That said, I hope the Church can pull itself out of its tailspin into relativity. Someone said there’s a lot of ruin in a nation. Nevertheless, most nations have had short lives. The Church has lasted two millennia. I would be deeply saddened to see it crash after that very long time into the sea of secular silliness in which most of the formerly Christian world is now floundering. There is so much goodness and truth in the Catholic Church, and this miserable mess of humans needs it to survive.

    • Quentin says:

      You say “probably never become a practising Catholic again”. Sorry to hear that. We need to have active Catholics who are ready to criticise and argue.

    • John Candido says:

      David Smith, I don’t understand your attitude or, with my apologies, your inflexibility over the controversy this priest has to conflict with his episcopal superiors.

      If our theological starting point is a central belief in a sacrificially loving God, why would God fail and angrily seek to punish children eternally?

      Fortunately, God is supremely self-aware and consistently embodies its personality and nature permanently.

      Therefore, logic will infer that God rules differently from mortals.

      Human leadership and the population they rule over are subject to fears, insecurities and cowardice.

      Additionally, everybody must be aware that while God is limitless, even God has limits, which is an unresolvable paradox of its own.

      Ask God to create a mathematically perfect circular square, to destroy itself experimentally and subsequently recreate itself from nonexistence, to lie and tell the truth on a specific point simultaneously, to deconstruct and invalidate the arithmetical truth that 2 + 3 = 5, and to reverse and advance time simultaneously.

      Even God has limits.

      One significant limitation is that God cannot act inconsistently with its true nature.

      Ask God to kill or harm an innocent child.

      I dare you to ask God to harm or destroy any innocent child’s life or to place that child in limbo, thereby forcing that child to suffer perpetually.

      Does theological inflexibility inevitably lead to a troublesome paradox or an illogical dead end?

      In these circumstances, it does.

      What about liturgical differences over the use of ‘we’ or ‘I’ resolved by a broad statement of principles from the Vatican supporting the freedom of priests to use either liturgical formulation?

      What messages are we sending to the world of observers in arguing over the use of ‘we’ or ‘I’?

      I suggest that liturgical conflicts over ‘we’ or ‘I’ appear childish and infantile to any reasonable onlooker and must be brought to a healthy end.

      Don’t you think?

      • milliganp says:

        John, my old head teacher told me “man creates God in his own image”. Your ramblings point to a deeply individual God, very much your own!
        I look to the 2000 year history of our church and the many people who have given far more of their lives to faith than either you or I will ever give.
        On the necessity of baptism, I defer to Christ ” Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
        “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

      • John Candido says:

        ‘On the necessity of baptism, I defer to Christ ”Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (milliganp)


        You seem to be saying that Christ insists that unless a person is baptised “he cannot enter the kingdom of God”.

        What does Christ mean by ‘the kingdom of God’?

        Is he referring to heaven, membership of the church or both?

        What happens to the soul of any person who is not baptised and dies?

        Presumably, that person will not enter the kingdom of God depending on what God’s kingdom is understood to be.

  8. John Candido says:

    I hope that anyone reading a Vatican document from their mobile phone uses a ‘ReaderView’ tool.

    A ‘ReaderView’ tool sign is found in the top left-hand corner of your mobile phone’s browser window, symbolically represented by ‘Aa’.

    It immediately increases the font size of letters, making reading any Vatican document a breeze on any mobile phone.

    Access to a mobile phone’s ‘ReaderView’ tool is through touching the ‘Aa’ symbol with your fingertip.

    There might be a minor inconvenience using a ‘ReaderView’ tool when reading Vatican statements or, for example, other media, when photographs, graphs or dates that a newspaper article is published fail to appear in the text while using the ‘ReaderView’ tool.

    However, turning the tool off or on is a fingertip away.

  9. John Candido says:

    It’s a shame that the ‘ReaderView’ tool cannot be used for the entire Vatican document about limbo.

    When I use the tool it starts at point 8, which is ridiculous!

    A similar limitation occurs with SecondSight.

    The ‘ReaderView’ tool on SecondSight can only be used for Quentin’s opening post but not for any person’s reply on SecondSight.

    C’mon SecondSight, pull your bloody finger out!

  10. galerimo says:

    Perhaps the need for certainty in the Church is the same as the need for finding a vaccination that provides 100% immunity from any disease. A rare thing.

    Am I simply wrong? – I think that could be a better way of putting the same question.

    I think the Church can provide very useful guidelines for making decisions about things.

    However, it is in the forum of our consciences that we make our decisions that can result in choices based on good data.

    Human maturity is not an easy path. But unless a person wants to live in the dependent state of childhood, there is no other way forward as a functioning adult human being.

    The search for certainty can lead up a blind alley, in those matters that concern Church.

    But on the positive side, the ability to accomodate tension and nuance while honestly moving forward in life is always supported by grace.

    I’ve made a lot of bad decisions and got many things wrong in my life – I am certain of that.

    But so long as the Church can keep alive Faith, Hope and Love in the way it ministers to the poor- it will continue as a great resource in my relationship to God

    – both an individual within a believing community and as a witness in this amazing world.

    Jesus is a tough, tough teacher and trying to follow Him without judging others and loving everyone as a member of my own family is something he never leaves me to do alone.

    He is always there, whether I am right or wrong.

  11. John Thomas says:

    Personally, I don’t know what Limbo is (the index of my Catechism of the Catholic Church has no entry under ‘Limbo’ – is it the same as Purgatory?) Does the Church teach any MORAL source for souls being dispatched to Limbo/Purgatory? – ie., as I have written elsewhere, is it as though St. Francis and Hitler go to the same place/eternal destiny? I have to say that I (a non-Catholic) find Purgatory (or something like it) more appealing as I get older. Did not C. S. Lewis (whom many follow; a product of real Northern Ireland Protestantism) suggest that many of us would need a time/place of “cleaning up” before we were fit to meet God? As for “I”/”we” baptise you … I know little, and won’t get involved …

  12. John Candido says:

    My apologies to Quentin!

    What I should have said is, C’mon WordPress not SecondSight to pull their bloody finger out!

  13. pnyikos says:

    It’s my understanding that Limbo never was an official doctrine, the way purgatory is, and that John Paul II explicitly said this, but added that he believed the mercy of God would be very supportive of such unfortunate infants.

    • milliganp says:

      Given Quentin’s frequently drawing us back to the issue of Abortion. It would be a strange God who condemned all the aborted to some eternal banishment, when their killers could seek salvation.

  14. David Smith says:

    John Candido writes ( ) :

    // What messages are we sending to the world of observers in arguing over the use of ‘we’ or ‘I’?

    I suggest that liturgical conflicts over ‘we’ or ‘I’ appear childish and infantile to any reasonable onlooker and must be brought to a healthy end.

    Don’t you think? //

    I hope I no longer use the unconditional “must”, John.

    And I think it’s a poor practice to trust what we learn through any source other than our five senses, but especially from “journalists”. One is an individual, and it behooves individuals to use trust, at least as that word is carefully defined, very sparingly and even then only provisionally. All received information is hearsay, essentially gossip. We live only in ourselves, hopefully with God.

    • pnyikos says:

      There is a subtle theological difference between “We” and “I” in this context. The ordinary ministers of baptism are priests and deacons, both of whom have holy orders. Lay people are extraordinary ministers and are only authorized to administer baptism is when there is a perceived danger of death, or when there is no hope of a priest or minister to be present in the foreseeable future. [This happened for over two centuries in Japan, beginning not long after St. Francis Xavier’s historic visit to Japan.]

      Thus, the use of “we” is problematic. That said, I think the reaction of the Bishop Olmstead is just plain wrong as reported in Quentin’s link:

      “It is not the community that baptises a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments; therefore, it is Christ who baptises,” Thomas J. Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix, said.

      This could, of course, be journalistic mis-reporting. If the priest, Father Andres Arango, kept the part “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” intact, the quote is irrelevant, and the bishop can be faulted for saying “Christ alone” and leaving the other two divine Persons out.

      • pnyikos says:

        I’d like to add that I have long been in favor of the Catholic Church allowing women to become deacons. [By the way, I should have written, “…no hope of a priest or deacon to be present in the foreseeable future.”] The weighty arguments that the Church is not authorized to ordain women priests do not apply to deacons, and there is even a deaconess mentioned in the New Testament.

        It has been argued that deaconesses were more like subdeacons than deacons. OK, then: let’s revive the active subdeaconate, the way the deaconate for married men was revived, and admit women to it.

  15. Iona says:

    While I’m aware that Limbo is not part of Church teaching, I didn’t think that it was ever considered a place of punishment. Admittedly, Dante located it in hell (the “first circle”) but I thought it was simply a place of “natural happiness”, the children there not being capable of the beatific vision.

  16. GD says:

    John the Baptist baptised Jesus …. All arguments above null and void … ???

  17. David Smith says:

    I just came across a reference to this two-year-old web page, at the Vatican web site. It seems germane to this discussion.


  18. David Smith says:

    The URL below points to my source for the Vatican document to which I referred at

    My apologies for not including it there.

    Thoughts on this one?

  19. David Smith says:

    It occurs to me that if the Church of the present and future is to be merely a social home for nice people, each of whom is free to interpret its teachings as he is inclined at any moment, it has very little reason for continuing to exist. It’s a waste of space and it hogs material resources better given to whatever social causes its members agree deserve them.

    It’s as simple as that, no?

    The issue of our age, it’s increasingly evident, I think, is where to locate the source of ultimate authority in our lives.

    • GD says:

      There are many ways the ‘Divine’ reaches out to people … Why should the Church not continue to be one just because the ‘temporal Institutions’ teaching is being ‘challenged’ by it’s members to find a different/new way(s) of expressing itself intellectually/socially? That’s ever been the case has it not ? Unity in Diversity and all that …

    • milliganp says:

      David, you presume this is an issue of our age. Perhaps, in the past, people found comfort in absolute authority and the church of that age suited their needs.

  20. milliganp says:

    I’ll provide an alternative point for consideration.
    My mother-in-law was a Catholic religious fanatic. Her children did not share her views. I have fairly good reason to suspect she baptised at least one of her grandchildren in the bath, given the child’s parents failure to do the same. Is this child (a truly anonymous Christian) assured a firmer hope of eternal salvation than those born of less scrupulous grandparents? Or, if this child dies unaware of their baptism, are they subject to a greater condemnation from God for failing to live up to their faith?

    • galerimo says:

      Good question – thank you, milliganp. I would like to have a crack at it. And like you, I’d like to hear how our fellow bloggers think of this one too.

  21. galerimo says:

    A Catholic attending mass twice a year, Christmas and Easter, was once described to me as “fanatical about their religion”.

    So, I wonder about the standards by which this mother-in-law’s practice were being judged!

    Her baptising of her grandchild in the bath, appears to be a valid ministry of that sacrament according to her Church.

    However, regarding this gift of God’s grace it will need to be freely accepted and engaged with, just as, in the case of any other cradle catholic.

    Hopefully, this journey of response-ability will accompany the normal maturing process.

    Parents and family have to do a lot of caring for children, before the little ones can deal with life on their own terms, as mature adults.

    For example, failure to clothe, feed or wash them would result in certain death from exposure, hunger or poor hygiene.

    In the same way the infant’s faith is nourished and supported by the community of believers into which the infant is born and surrounded.

    In this case, that would probably be only by the mother-in-law, in the first instance, but also by the wider community of believers. The mystical Body of Christ.

    So, this child is probably well set up for the journey into maturity of human freedom as well as the embracing of their faith as an adult

    – one day the possibility of conscious companionship with Jesus will be a real choice for them.

    I think the concept of anonymous christianity, as mentioned by Rahner, has more to do with those who are outside the sacramental life of the church but who have never consciously rejected Christ

    -those who live a good life, by the light of their own conscience.

    In the first post above, I find GD gives a wonderful understanding of such anonymity in his reflection on the ground of being in Aquinas’s discussion on grace,ST.III Q8,A3

    As to, are they subject to a greater condemnation from God for failing to live up to their faith? is beyond me. That is way beyond me.

    But, I do believe God never violates anyone’s freedom.

    By that I mean, God does not force little ones or adults in any sense of the word. Unless a loving relationship is founded on free choice it will have very little chance of benefit for anyone.

    Here again Aquinas is a good guide when he talks about how God’s grace builds on nature ST.I QI. A8. Ad2. Our exercise of free choice underpins all of our faith.

    And there is nothing more natural than freedom in choosing to love someone, including God.

    – especially when this choice is made as a way of making real the possibility given to you by your parents, long ago, in infant baptism.

    Having said this, it is good to point out that none of our choices are ever final and can always grow as circumstance change around us, and since they are never set in concrete, they will change and develop.

  22. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes ( ) :

    // Having said this, it is good to point out that none of our choices are ever final and can always grow as circumstance change around us, and since they are never set in concrete, they will change and develop. //


    // Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
    Confusions of a wasted youth;
    Forgive them where they fail in truth,
    And in thy wisdom make me wise. //

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