25 August 2020

When is a priest not a priest?

Matthew Hood of Detroit was ordained as a Catholic priest in 2017.  Or was he?

Hood recently discovered that when he was baptized Catholic as an infant thirty years ago, the officiating deacon mistakenly used the phrase "we baptize you" rather than "I baptize you".  It matters, according to doctrine, because in this situation the officiating cleric is allowing Jesus to "speak through" him, and since Jesus is one person, the grammatical singular is required.

This error means that Hood's baptism was not valid and he has thus technically not been a baptized Catholic all this time.  And since only a baptized Catholic can be a Catholic priest, his ordination in 2017 was not valid either and he has not actually been a priest during those three years, despite sincerely believing he was.  Yes, they are serious.

This has some potentially ominous consequences.  All the attendees at masses he held, who believed they were eating Jesus, were actually just eating ordinary crackers since he did not have the magic power to "transubstantiate" them into the flesh of the deity.  Any couples who were married by him were not "really" married in the eyes of God, and have in fact been committing fornication ever since (and any resulting children are illegitimate) -- not because of any error in the marriage ritual, nor even in Hood's ordination, but in his baptism thirty years before.  Presumably any confessions he heard and absolution he offered don't count either.  People more familiar than I am with Catholicism's intricate rules could probably think of more examples.

Since the error was discovered, Hood has been "correctly" baptized and subjected to all the necessary rituals to make him a "real" priest, but evidently they can't do this retroactively, so anybody he performed rituals for in the last three years has problems.  Hood's archdiocese is trying to contact all such people to straighten things out.

All because some guy thirty years ago said "we" instead of "I".  Well, exact wording is important in magic spells, but didn't Jesus object to this kind of scribe-and-Pharisee bureaucratic hairsplitting approach to religion in his own time?  And wouldn't a loving, or even sane, God cut everybody a little slack in this kind of situation?

How many times do errors like this happen and never get detected?  Oh, as long as everybody accepts a priest as a priest, it makes no practical difference, but in the eyes of Catholic dogma, presumably an invalid baptism or later ordination ritual does mean a priest is not "really" a priest and all the rituals he performs in his career are not valid, even if nobody ever finds out.  I've seen claims that such things could not have happened before the twentieth century because they were doing all this stuff in Latin which is supposedly "more precise", but I've also read that many surviving Church documents in Latin from the Middle Ages are riddled with grammatical errors.  Would God spurn a ritual as worthless because the officiating cleric got the genitive-case plural of an irregular third-declension noun wrong, perhaps reading from a document containing the error?  It seems no more absurd than such dire consequences following from the mix-up of "we" and "I" in English.

Worse yet, only a validly-ordained cleric can ordain someone else as a priest -- so if a cleric whose ordination was invalid due to such an error ordains a priest, that priest is not "really" a priest either, and neither is any future priest he ordains in the course of his career, and so on.  One blunder a few centuries ago could result in a whole proliferation of undetected "not-real" ordinations, with dozens of priests today unknowingly being fakes -- meaning countless couples not validly married, sins not validly absolved, altar boys not validly molested, etc.

Such absurdities follow inevitably from this kind of bureaucratic, Kafkaesque approach to religion, where what are basically magical spells and incantations are believed to have such powerful effects on personal status -- where it is mere words rather than the nature and behavior of a thing or person that determine what or who that thing or person "is".  If Satan exists, he's laughing his ass off over this one.

(See also here for another curious implication of Catholic doctrine.)


Blogger Jack said...

The more I learn about what Catholics believe (or at least what they are supposed to believe), the stranger it seems. I find myself wondering how any adult could believe much of it. And then I begin to suspect that most probably don't.

25 August, 2020 03:48  
Blogger bluzdude said...

I just wonder how the hell anyone found out what word was used in a repetitive ritual 30 years ago.

25 August, 2020 05:28  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Really? That's just bullshit. Not that he cannot be a 'real' priest because of semantics but the amount of stupid requirements and convoluted acts of faith. These mythologies do not hold up to scrutiny, huh?


25 August, 2020 05:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: It does have very strong elements of magical thinking and bureaucratic legalism. It's the result of two thousand years of accretion of influences and fixes for various issues that arose. Certainly a very strange end-product.

Bluzdude. The baptism was videotaped. Hood happened to take a look at the video and spotted the error. If he hadn't said anything, probably no one else would ever have known.

Sixpence: I really think if Jesus came back today, he'd tell them that this level of rules and hairsplitting about technicalities was not what he had in mind.

25 August, 2020 06:22  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I guess there's nothing more important going on in the world for them to worry and obsess over.

25 August, 2020 07:13  
Blogger Mike said...

The guy should have come to me. I've authorized myself to do retroactive baptisms for all religions.

25 August, 2020 08:38  
Blogger Ami said...

I keep wanting to comment but I'm so stunned I don't know exactly what to say.

My mom allowed me to go to catechism with a couple Catholic friends back in middle school. I found it astounding, all the rituals and talismans and genuflecting and how seriously they all took it. Crazy to me... and I was raised in a series of fundamentalist churches!

I can't imagine being so regimented that one teeny word negates your entire life.
Just one more reason to look at religion and run, screaming, in the other direction.

25 August, 2020 18:40  
Anonymous Ole Phat Stu said...

Is this perhaps why the Queen of England can never be a Catholic priest, since she always goes for a royal "we"?

"Our husband and us..."

25 August, 2020 22:39  
Blogger Murr Brewster said...

I like to think the priest was using the "Bacterial We" on behalf of his gut flora.

25 August, 2020 22:57  
Blogger jono said...

My first answer was, "when he is a rapist/pedophile." Then I thought about the magical thinking and wondered why all the fabulously wealthy televangelist faith healers aren't out curing Covid-19 victims.
I always appreciate your thought provoking blog entries. See how they work for me?

26 August, 2020 04:27  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

What a story! I, too, would like to know how they discovered the "we" instead of the "I."

I was raised a Catholic, and to this day still don't know how the Church decides these things. I'll share a story:

When I had my second child, I wanted my sister-in-law and her husband to be the godparents. I told the priest who would be doing the baptism that my s-i-l's husband was Protestant, not Catholic. The priest told me to tell Bill if anyone asked about his religion at the Christening, (unlikely), just have him tell the priest he's Catholic.

IOW, lie.

Shortly after that I left the Church.

26 August, 2020 12:46  
Blogger Bruce said...

I am a Catholic priest who no longer believes. And these things are ridiculous. But there is a failure of empathy. I became a priest because I liked Jesus, and the other stuff was just included. But I did not believe because of "transubstantiation". Jesus still strikes a chord with some people despite the fact that churches accessorize in stupid ways. But, I dare say, that love (which many non-believers accept) does not stand up in the face of certain rational scrutiny.

26 August, 2020 12:54  
Blogger Lawrence said...

So, it's like DOS?

26 August, 2020 16:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra: Except whether pro-abortion-rights politicians should be allowed to eat the holy crackers or not.

Mike: That must be useful. With God all things are possible.

Ami: It really is bizarre. I don't understand how "spirituality" can be so mind-numbingly bureaucratic.

Stu: Well, at least she doesn't claim to be channeling Jesus.

Murr: I wouldn't want to be baptized by anybody's gut flora.

Jono: I think it's when they're doing that stuff that they're most typically holy men. Always glad to provoke a few thoughts.....

Shaw: The whole bearing-false-witness thing never seems to have been much of a problem for them. It's really an indispensable part of their whole racket.

Bruce: Congratulations on overcoming (dare I say "transcending") belief. All the rules and technicalities in organized religion seems to have smothered whatever might once have been positive about it. But love and empathy are naturally-occurring feelings which humans, and even some other animals, naturally have. They've never been dependent on religion, and in fact most religion is inimical to them.

Lawrence: Sorry, I don't get the reference.

27 August, 2020 02:23  

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