Mormons and Baptism

This note was originally sent by me to Gary Kellison. This was written before the 2001 ruling updated below.

UPDATE BELOW: Mormon Baptisms are invalid.

I was quite interested in the discussion about Baptism you were having with Bill Leahy. So, I thought my contribution would be to correct and expand the original "Mormons & Baptism" post I sent you.

By "correct" I meant rectifying some typos I made in the texts I copied here. And "expand" means quoting from both Della Rocca's MANUAL OF CANON LAW and the 1983 CODEX IURIS CANONICI.

In a message you write:

GK> Yes. The RCC even recognizes "a baptism of necessity". For example, you might have an infant born with a soon-fatal medical condition. There is no time to summon a minister or priest. In that situation, ANYBODY can administer a valid baptism so long as

1. There is an intention to perform the baptism. 2. It is in a Trinitariam form -- "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit...."

It is for the second reason that Mormons who convert to Catholicism are re-baptized. Mormon practice baptism, but are not Trinitarian in doctrine. >>

Interesting. I knew the Mormons teach grave errors about the Godhead, but SOME of their baptisms are recognized as valid.


I. The following texts about baptisms by Mormons may interest you. I quoted them 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. They were an exchange of letters between a Mid-Western US diocese and the Doctrinal Congregation.

October 25, 1991

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11 00193 Rome, Italy

Your Eminence:

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 practice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been not to challenge the validity of baptism as performed by that American sect in regards to marriage. Knowing that the question has been thoroughly studied by theologians attached to your Congregation, I respect- fully ask that a number of points regarding this matter be clarified. It would appear that regarding form and matter of the sacrament, there is little doubt that baptism as practiced by the members of the Mormon cult resembles baptism as celebrated in the Catholic Church and in certain Protestant ecclesial communities. That is, the Trinitarian formula is used, and baptism is effected by means of total immersion in a pool of water.

Nevertheless, I am confused as to how baptism as performed by a member of that cult can be considered valid when one studies carefully their creed regarding the Holy Trinity and the nature of the Church. Members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ are, in effect, polytheists. The Blessed Trinity is understood not as defined by the Church Fathers and by the work of the ecumenical councils, but rather as taught by their founder, Joseph Smith and associates in the celestial sphere. Among the multitude of gods, there exists the Godhead. The Godhead is made up of three separate gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mormons speak of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as beings with "body, parts, and passions." As Joseph Smith stated this creed, "God (the Father) was once as we are now, and is an exalted man" (JOURNAL OF DISCOURSES, vol. VI, p. 4).

Furthermore Mormons believe that "Every man who reins* in celestial glory is a god to his dominions.... Hence the Father, who shall continue to all eternity as the God of exalted being, is God of Gods. Further, there is a God above the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.... Jesus was the Son of God and John discovered that God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father also (MORMON DOCTRINE, Bookcraft, second edition, p. 322). Also outrageously heretical is their belief that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were generated through acts of sexual intercourse. Regarding the Virgin Mary, Mormons believe that she was "carried away in the Spirit...and the conception which took place....resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father (MORMON DOCTRINE, p. 322).

In the above aberrations of Christian doctrine, it would appear that although the followers of this cult may pronounce the words of the Trinitarian formula and immerse the initiate in water, their intention is not to baptize in the Triune God, but rather in a group of three gods who were all once human beings and continue to exist in human form. One must also question their intention at the time of baptism to bring the initiate into the grace of the new dispensation of Jesus Christ. Besides denying the necessity and even existence of grace, Mormons believe that the Church founded by Jesus' preaching, death, and resurrection died with the death of the the last of the twelve original apostles. What came into being at that time were "false churches" (see MORMON DOCTRINE, p. 136).

They further believe that sometime in 1829 or 1830 Peter, James and John appeared to Joseph Smith in America and gave him the keys of the kingdom and the power to proclaim a restored and final dispensation of the gospel and thus was able to reestablish the "true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Because they completely and absolutely deny any validity to the Catholic Church, the Churches of the East, and indeed to any of the Churches of the Reformation, it seems that one must question their intention to perform the rite of baptism as the means of salvation through Jesus Christ through His Church that has continued through the ages. Indeed, it would appear that the followers of the Mormon sect possess an intention to NOT baptize in the true Church of Jesus Christ. Any point of clarification regarding the above would be greatly appreciated. Please be assured of my gratitude and respect for the important service you provide for the entire Church. With every best wish, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Rev. A.J.V. Adjutant Judicial Vicar

* An obvious spelling mistake or typo. The Adjutant Judicial Vicar plainly meant the word "reigns." SMB

The following reply was received from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in April of 1992. It was addressed to the Bishop of the Diocese from where the letter originated. The text is as follows [English original]:

March 31 1992

Prot. No. 9/90

Your Excellency:

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


From all this I drew three conclusions:

1. Some baptisms administered by Mormons are certainly invalid (not baptized at all). In which case converts have to be baptized absolutely.

2. Some baptisms administered by Mormons MAY be of doubtful validity. In such cases converts have to be conditionally baptized.

3. In other cases, some converts WERE baptized validly. At any rate, all converts from the LDS have to be investigated case by case to determine which of these three categories their baptismal status falls under.

II. And, here I'll be quoting from page 102 of Dr. Fernando Della Rocca's MANUAL OF CANON LAW (The Bruce Pub. Co.: 1959). A commentary on the 1917 CODEX IURIS CANONICI.

"46. Canonical personality is obtained by baptism (c. 87), the only means by which a man can enter and become a member of Church. By means of baptism, a man becomes a person, a subject of rights and duties, i.e., one of the faithful and a member of the Church. Outside the Church, and consequently deprived of canonical personality, are the unbaptized and infidels. These remain outside the scope of ecclesiastical law but not of the divine law, the latter being obligatory even for them. Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments and is administered by ablution with true natural water (by infusion, immersion, or aspersion c. 758) of the one to be baptized, and by the pronouncing, with the intention of baptizing, of the formula, 'Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.' "

The next text is from the 1983 CODEX IURIS CANONICI, prescribing the necessity of Baptism.

"Can. 849 -- Baptism, the gate to the sacraments, necessary for salvation in fact or at least in intention, by which men and women are freed from their sins, are reborn as children of God and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated in the Church, is validly conferred only by washing with true water together with the required form of words."

Perhaps this was a bit pedantic of me! <g>

Yours. Sean

UPDATE: Mormon Baptism is Declared Invalid

VATICAN CITY, JULY 17, 2001 ( Prompted by questions about Mormon practices, the Vatican recently confirmed that the sect's baptism is invalid. Last month the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted the invalidity of the Mormons' baptism given their misconception of the Trinity and, consequently, the identity of Christ.

Father Luis Ladaria, a theologian at the Pontifical Gregorian University, explained today in L'Osservatore Romano the Church's view about Mormon baptism.

"The baptism of the Catholic Church and that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," the theologian said, "differ essentially as regards faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name baptism is conferred and, at the same time, in regard to Christ, who instituted it."

Father Ladaria pointed out that even non-Catholics can administer baptism validly, as the minister of the sacrament is, in fact, Christ himself. But the baptiser must do so in the name of the Trinity and "with the intention of doing what the Church does," he added.

Joseph Smith founded the Mormons in New York State in 1830. He was inspired to find the place were golden tablets were placed, which expressed the revelations of the prophet Mormon, written by him and his son Moroni. Mormonism is a "sacred history" rewritten in America, in which God revealed the "latter-day saints."

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's response is based on research requested by the U.S. bishops.

Father Ladaria said the formula used by the Mormons for baptism states that,

"having received Christ's mandate, I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

But there is no real invocation of the Trinity, the theologian said, because, for the Mormons, the "Father," "Son" and "Holy Spirit" are not the three persons in which the one divinity subsists, but three gods who form a divinity.

The term divinity itself has no "substantial" content, because, according to this Mormon concept, divinity has come into existence given that the three gods have decided to unite and form the divinity to bring about the salvation of man. This divinity and man share the same nature and are "substantially the same," according to Mormon belief.

Such divergence in doctrine implies, Father Ladaria said, that the Mormon minister does not have the intention, when baptizing, of doing what the Catholic Church does when it confers baptism.

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