In June of 2001 the Catholic Church issued an official statement declaring its decision not to recognise the validity of the baptisms performed by the
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
RESPONSE TO A ‘DUBIUM’
on the validity of baptism conferred by
«The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints»,
Question: Wheter the baptism conferred by the community «The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints», called «Mormons» in the vernacular, is valid.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Response, decided in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, and ordered it published.
From the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5 June 2001.
+ Joseph Cardinal RATZINGER
+ Tarcisio BERTONE, S.D.B.
Archbishop emeritus of Vercelli
This raises the obvious question of why the Catholic Church, which is a very conservative institution in maintaining its traditions and practices, has decided to go against its long held practice of recognizing the baptisms performed by other churches; and why it has made that decision, with regard to the LDS Church, now?
That decision is odd, because the Catholic Church has traditionally accepted baptisms performed by other churches, such as radical Protestant churches that have broken away from it, and even called it abusive names such as “Whore of Babylon,” and called the Pope the “Antichrist”! The
Traditionally and historically, in fact, the Catholic Church has accepted baptism performed by anyone in an emergency. A Jewish Rabbi, a Moslem cleric, an atheist can perform a valid Catholic baptism in an emergency. If someone is at the point of death, and he has no recourse to a Catholic Priest, he can ask anyone at hand to perform the rite of baptism for him, and the Catholic Church accepts that as a valid baptism. So it is indeed odd that they should single out the
Interestingly, the Catholic Church in its official statement published on the Vatican website mentioned above, does not attempt to give a reason, or a theological explanation for its decision; so that the Catholic apologists have been left to their own devices to come up with an explanation for it; and they have latched on to theological differences concerning the Godhead or the Trinity. But that only raises more awkward questions for the Catholic Church, because differences in doctrine have never been considered a justification for not acknowledging the validity of another church’s baptism. In an interesting article by Fr Luis Ladaria, S.J., entitled: “The Question Of The Validity Of Baptism Conferred In The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints,” he makes it clear that doctrinal differences have never been a justification for the Catholic Church to alter its policy of recognizing baptisms performed by other churches. Here is an extract from that article:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a negative response to a “Dubium” regarding the validity of Baptism conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons. Given that this decision changes the past practice of not questioning the validity of such Baptism, it seems appropriate to explain the reasons that have led to this decision and to the resulting change of practice.
This explanation becomes even more necessary if one considers that errors of a doctrinal nature have never been considered sufficient to question the validity of the sacrament of Baptism. In fact, already in the middle of the third century Pope Stephen I, opposing the decisions of an African synod in 256 A.D., reaffirmed that the ancient practice of the imposition of hands as a sign of repentance should be maintained, but not the rebaptism of a heretic who enters the Catholic Church. In this way, the name of Christ attains great honour for faith and sanctification because whoever is baptized in the name of Christ, wherever that has taken place, has received the grace of Christ (cf. Denzinger-Hüngermann [DH] 110–111). The same principle was upheld by the Synod of Arles in 314 (cf. DH 123). Well known also is the struggle of
Even non-Catholics can validly administer Baptism. In every case, however, it is the Baptism of the Catholic Church, which does not belong to those who separate themselves from her but to the Church from which they have separated themselves (cf. Augustine, On Baptism 1, 12, 9). This validity is possible because Christ is the true minister of the sacrament: Christ is the one who truly baptizes, whether it is Peter or Paul or Judas who baptizes (cf. Augustine, Treatise on the Gospel of John VI, 1,7; cf. CCC n. 1127). The Council of Trent, confirming this tradition, defined that Baptism administered by heretics in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, with the intention of doing what the Catholic Church does is true Baptism (cf. DH 1617).
The most recent documents of the Catholic Church maintain the same teaching. The Code of Canon Law prescribes that those who have been baptized in non-Catholic ecclesial communities (as long as there is no doubt regarding the matter or the form or the intention of the minister or of the person being baptized) should not be baptized again (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 869 §2), Intrinsically connected to this problem is that of who can be the minister of Baptism in the Catholic Church. According to the Code, in cases of necessity anyone can baptize, provided the intention is correct (cf. can. 861 §2). The Code of Canon Law confirms the fundamental elements of Tridentine teaching and makes more explicit what is the required correct intention: “The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes. The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation” (CCC, n. 1256. Evidently, the necessity of Baptism spoken of here is not to be understood in an absolute sense; cf. ibid., nn. 1257–1261). Precisely because of the necessity of Baptism for salvation the Catholic Church has had the tendency of broadly recognizing this right intention in the conferring of this sacrament, even in the case of a false understanding of TRINITARIAN FAITH, as for example in the case of the ARIANS. [Emphasis added.]
Curiously, in this same article, Fr Ladaria then proceeds to justify the decision of the Catholic Church precisely on the basis of the theological differences between the two religions, which negates everything he has just said above! Here is a quote:
We have seen that in the texts of the Magisterium on Baptism there is a reference to the invocation of the Trinity (to the sources already mentioned, the Fourth Lateran Council could be added here [DH 8021). The formula used by the Mormons might seem at first sight to be a Trinitarian formula. The text states: “Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. D&C 20:73). The similarities with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement. [Emphasis added.]
This negates what he has said before. Either doctrinal differences are significant or they are not. At first he says that they are not, and then he says that they are!
Another (former) Catholic priest by the name of Jordan Vajda*, who writes more sympathetically of the LDS Church, in the introduction to his masters’ thesis: Partakers of the Divine Nature: A Comparative Analysis of the Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization, (pp. xiii–xv), has come up with a different explanation for the Catholic Church’s decision, as follows:
My intuition, however, which I hope to more fully develop into an article in the near future, tells me that the decision of the Catholic Church to not recognize the validity of LDS baptism actually parallels something that the Latter-day Saints have understood since their beginning in 1830. To be specific: in April 1830, within days of the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Prophet Joseph Smith was taught by means of divine revelation that the baptismal ordinances performed by all other Christians—the current-day adherents of that era or dispensation of salvation history, which was established by Christ during his earthly ministry (and which, from an LDS perspective, has gone into apostasy)—are essentially different and invalid as compared to those performed in the LDS Church, which has ushered in the new “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18). This divine instruction would subsequently appear in the first authorized collection of the Prophet Joseph’s revelations, The Book of Commandments (1833), and can now be found as section 22 of the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the four volumes of LDS scripture (along with the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and the Pearl of Great Price).
The Catholic Church, albeit a bit inarticulately, has now recognized that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represents not just another development of Protestantism, but is truly a “new religious tradition” (as also noted by Professor Jan Shipps in her landmark study Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition). Thus, the Catholic Church has recognized that the baptism of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the baptism of a different gospel dispensation; and if a person wants to “cross-over” from one gospel dispensation to another, the baptism of the other dispensation will not and cannot be regarded as valid. [Emphasis added.]
This puts a much braver face on it for the Catholic Church, and is certainly the most intelligent and face-saving explanation that a Catholic could give.
Another consideration is, Why did the Catholic Church take so long to come to that momentous decision? This decision is relatively recent. The
But since “guesswork” is now the order of the day; and the Catholic Church, which made that decision in the first place, did not venture to give us an official explanation for its decision; I think that my guesswork is as good a anybody else’s! And I don’t think that either explanation is correct. I believe that there were several factors involved in that decision, which I will try to enumerate as follows:
The main reason for making that decision I believe was in retaliation to the LDS policy of not recognizing the validity their baptism! Long before the Catholic Church decided not to recognize LDS baptism, the
But that decision does not solve the Catholic Church’s problem. It creates more problems for them than it solves. The Catholic Church is now caught in a quandary of its own making. The reason is that their position is untenable and inconsistent. It is both theologically and historically inconsistent. It is theologically inconsistent because the necessity for priesthood or divine authority has never been a requirement for Catholic baptism; so the Catholic Church cannot now turn around and say to the
Their position is also historically inconsistent, because the Catholic Church had traditionally accepted baptism from anyone including a non-Catholic or an unbeliever. So there is no valid reason why they should not accept it from the
The LDS position, on the other hand, has been extremely consistent. From the day that the
Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Manchester, New York, April 1830. HC 1:79–80. This revelation was given to the Church in consequence of some who had previously been baptized desiring to unite with the Church without rebaptism.
1 Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.
2 Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works.
3 For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old.
4 Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen.
This has been the position of the
However, I believe that there is still more to this decision than what meets the eye. The curious thing is that previous to this decision being made, representation was made to the “Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” in October 25, 1991, by a Rev. A.J.V. Adjutant Judicial Vicar, of a Mid-Western US diocese for the RCC, to not recognize the validity LDS baptism, to which the said “Congregation” at that time gave a negative response. The text of this exchange apparently comes from pages 17–20 of ROMAN REPLIES AND CLSA ADVISORY OPINIONS 1992 (Canon Law Society of America: 1992), edited by Kevin W. Vann, J.C.D. and Lynn Jarrell, O.S.U., J.C.D. and published on the Internet. The letter is addressed to “Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11 00193
I am writing regarding the question of the validity of the sacrament of baptism as practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). . . .
The rest of the letter is a long rant against the supposed doctrinal and procedural falsities of the
March 31 1992
Prot. No. 9/90
Reverend A.J.V., the adjutant judicial vicar of your diocese had occasion to write to this Congregation last October 25th, raising certain questions regarding the validity of Mormon baptism. We would be grateful if you would pass on to Father A.J.V. the following information, conveying our regrets for the delay in response. While it would be inopportune here to go into all the counter-positions in the several arguments Father A.J.V. brings to bear against the validity of Mormon baptism, suffice it to say that all of the points he raised in his letter were taken into consideration in a recent in-depth examination undertaken by this dicastery, the outcome of which we are pleased to share with you.
On February 15, 1991, in an audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect, the Holy Father approved the conclusion of this Congregation’s study that “there are insufficient grounds to change the current practice not to contest the validity of Mormon baptism.” It might be noted that this decision does not indicate simple confirmation of the validity of Mormon baptism. Rather, it points to the lack of reasons necessary to warrant an absolute decision of its invalidity, where the proper form and matter have been used. It should be noted that it can occasionally in fact occur that a particular Mormon baptism may be certainly invalid because of a lack of proper form, for example, where two ministers have divided the words of the Trinitarian formula between them. For this reason each individual case must be examined to ascertain whether the proper form has been observed. This having been said, however, the practice followed in some regions of conditionally baptizing converts from Mormonism to Catholicism may continue.
I hope this information proves useful. Please thank Father A.J.V. for us for bringing his concerns on this topic to the attention of this Dicastery. Happy to have the opportunity to convey cordial regards, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ A. Bovone Secretary [Emphasis added]
So something happened between March 1992 and June 2001 that caused the Catholic Church to change its mind! What could that be? Well, since the RCC has decided to play its cards close to its chest, and chosen not to tell us anything apart from making a declaration, we have to do some detective work to figure that out for ourselves, which is not too hard to do. I think the following factors are significant in this case.
Firstly, that decision was made at the instigation of the Catholic Church in the
“The ruling, made on June 5 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had been in response to a question on the validity of LDS baptisms posed by the Bishops’ Conference of the
Secondly, this decision came soon after the three largest Protestant denominations in the
It is now easier to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and see where the whole thing came from. The prime mover behind this decision was the Catholic Churches in the
My guess is that the decision was pushed through with the help of Cardinal Ratzinger. The
But the ultimate question is, does anybody care? The
“We are neither concerned nor offended that the Catholic Church has determined not to recognize Latter-day Saint baptisms,” church spokesman Michael Otterson said Thursday. He noted that converts to the Mormon faith must be rebaptized. [Emphasis added.] Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2001.
“We are neither concerned nor offended that the Catholic Church has determined not to recognize Latter-day Saint baptisms,” Dale Bills, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said. “As a fundamental tenet of our faith, we believe that all people have a God-given right to worship how, where or what they may.” [Emphasis added.] Deseret News, July 18, 2001.
I personally see in this a pretty damning and devastating response.
* Father Jordan Vajda, a Dominican Catholic Priest at the time, completed his master’s thesis, “‘Partakers of the Divine Nature’: A Comparative Analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization,” in 1998 at the Graduate Theological Union in