Pastoral Consequences Of The Mormon Baptism Decision

by Jimmy Akin

in Sacraments

A reader writes:

My wife came into the Catholic church somewhere around 2000 before we were married in the Church. She had been a baptized Mormon before then, in which the Deacon teaching her RCIA class said the church recognized as a valid baptism. I never thought to double check his assertion on this, and there’s the possibility he flat out just misunderstood or lost record of her telling him this. Whatever the case, she underwent the Preparation for Christians, instead of the Preparation for the Unbaptized. We regularly celebrate the sacraments together now, and I was wondering the validity/invalidity of her confirmation into Catholicism? Would you please shed some light on this for us?

This is a very delicate question, and I want to compliment you for asking it. It shows a willingness to confront potentially unpleasant or disturbing matters and to follow God’s truth even in the face of potential difficulties.

What the deacon told you was probably based on a correct understanding of Catholic practice at the time. Prior to 2001, it was generally assumed that Mormon baptisms were valid and thus that Mormons who became Catholic did not need to be baptized upon their reception into the Church, though many were given conditional baptisms just in case.

Those were the fortunate ones, because in 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the following response :

 

RESPONSE TO A ‘DUBIUM’
on the validity of baptism conferred by

«The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints»,

called «Mormons»


Question:
Wheter the baptism conferred by the community «The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints», called «Mormons» in the vernacular, is valid.


Response:
Negative.


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
Prefect

  + Tarcisio BERTONE, S.D.B.
Archbishop emeritus of Vercelli
Secretary

This means that, after further reflection, the Church does not regard Mormon baptisms as vaild.

Whether your wife received preparation for the baptized or preparation for the unbaptized is not of concern at this point, but what is of concern is the status of her baptism.

If she received a conditional baptism at the time she was received into the Church then her confirmation and her participation in subsequence sacraments will be valid (in the case of confession, for example) and legitimate (in the case of her reception of Holy Communion).

If she did not receive at least a conditional baptism at the time of her reception then she would not be able to validly (and in the case of the reception of the Eucharist, legitimately) participate in the other sacraments since baptism is the gateway to the sacraments.

It would therefore be necessary for her to receive at least a conditional baptism, following which she would be able to participate in a normal sacramental life, including receiving confirmation.

Thus if she was not given at least a conditional baptism at the time of her reception, I recommend contacting the pastor of your parish to pursue these options. Please let me know if you encounter difficulties with this.

I’d also add a couple of additional notes:

First, the response issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is brief and does not go into the reason why Mormon baptisms are invalid. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, however, published a commentary by Fr. Luis Ladaria on the reasoning behind the decision. That commentary may be helpful in better understanding this issue.

IT IS AVAILABLE HERE.

Second, it sounds to me as if everyone was acting in good conscience at the time of your wife’s reception into the Church, and so nobody here is to be blamed–not the deacon, not your wife, not anybody. In fact, Fr. Ladaria’s commentary points out:

It is equally necessary to underline that the decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a response to a particular question regarding the Baptism of Mormons and obviously does not indicate a judgment on those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Furthermore, Catholics and Mormons often find themselves working together on a range of problems regarding the common good of the entire human race. It can be hoped therefore that through further studies, dialogue and good will, there can be progress in reciprocal understanding and mutual respect.

Thus while the Church has on further reflection determined that Mormon baptisms are not valid, this is not to be understood as a negative judgment on Mormons or on those who were baptized as Mormons. Nor should those who were following the Church’s practice before the clarification issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith be faulted.

It is an unfortunate situation that needs to be addressed pastorally through the administration of baptism to those who were received into the Church under the prior practice (if they did not receive conditional baptisms at the time of their reception), but nobody here is to blame or should be made to feel bad regarding this.

I hope this helps, and I encourage my readers to pray for you and your wife.

God bless you both!

20

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{ 9 comments }

Brian haynes May 12, 2006 at 12:26 pm

Its because they dont believe in the Triune God. They believe each are seprate not One of three

SteveL May 12, 2006 at 2:13 pm

I always wondered about this. Thanks for the post and the link. Now I understand the fundamental differences and reasoning of the Church.

Mark May 13, 2006 at 11:46 am

why not just rebaptise altogether?..I am sure since our protestant “brothers dont accept Peter that could be cause?

Anonymous May 13, 2006 at 4:22 pm

Mark,
I’m thinking the reason for not rebaptising would go back to the 3rd/4th centuries and the arguments from the councils then on those baptised by Arians and other groups who came to accept the orthodox veiw.

Liz May 14, 2006 at 12:06 pm

So what about Protestants whose baptisms were done by single immersion or the ones which may or may not have been done using the correct trinitarian formula (this is probably not so much a current problem as a future one since so many Protestants are now using the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier formula, but it could effect children of converts). Wouldn’t it be better for the Church to simply conditionally baptize all converts? This apparently was the practice that the Bishop Bruskewitz took when he received Scott Hahn into the Church since Scott (who was infant baptized as a Presbyterian) was conditionally baptized. My impression is that it was the practice before Vatican II when receiving converts from other Christian denominations, but I could be mistaken.
How many of us who were baptized as Protestants and not conditionally baptized when being received into the Church should be worried about the validity of our baptisms?

SDG May 14, 2006 at 7:30 pm

How many of us who were baptized as Protestants and not conditionally baptized when being received into the Church should be worried about the validity of our baptisms?

That is an excellent question, unfortunately.

Susan Peterson May 16, 2006 at 5:38 am

The priest who received me into the church told me I was the first convert he had NOT conditionally baptized. This was because I had been baptized a year previously in the Episcopal church, and therefore knew that I had been baptized correctly.
Susan Peterson

Anonymous May 16, 2006 at 11:05 am

I read on the CUF website some information about baptisms. As long as proper matter (water) and the proper trinitarian formula are used, baptisms by other Christian groups are valid (even if illicit because done by sprinkling for example). On the other hand baptisms done using communion wine, or oil, or using the funky Creator, Redeemer,Sanctifier formula would be both illicit and invalid.

Greco June 7, 2006 at 7:39 am

The Mormons do not believe in one God. There are many. God the Father is an exalted man. God the Father has a wife. Jesus is our spiritual brother. They deny the divinity of God the father and God the son by not accepting the true meaning of the word divinity or the true meaning of the word God. LAG

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