Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Online auction house EBay yesterday urged a seller to end the sale of a Eucharist wafer purportedly blessed by Pope John Paul II after officials determined they couldn’t verify “outrageous” bids.

A British seller put the wafer on EBay on April 17 with an opening bid of $189. When EBay took the wafer off its site yesterday, the top bid was close to $2 million.

This is the second wafer in two weeks that has been put up for bids, prompting outrage among Catholics. Catholics believe that once a wafer is consecrated by a priest, it becomes the body of Jesus Christ. Consuming the Eucharist is one of the religion’s seven sacraments.

A petition asking EBay to add the Eucharist to its list of items prohibited for sale has been circulating by e-mail. Organizers have collected 12,896 signatures.

The San Jose, Calif., company has defended the auctions, and officials say they have no plans to prohibit the sale of religious material.

“We understood it would offend some people, but it’s a legitimate listing. If it were to be put up again, we’d let it stay there,” said Hanzi Durzy, an EBay spokesman. “We didn’t pull the listing because of what it was. We pulled it because bidding got into an outrageous price range with no bidder preapproval.”

Current items prohibited on EBay include animals and wildlife products, drugs and drug paraphernalia, gift cards, lottery tickets and Nazi memorabilia.

EBay officials said they have no plans to change their policies; if an item offends someone, that person shouldn’t bid on it.

Mr. Durzy explained that listings that draw the most attention tend to draw a lot of bogus bids. Company policy is to contact the seller and ask him to verify the item’s authenticity and that the bids are legitimate.

EBay received a flood of calls yesterday from people who think that auctioning Holy Communion wafers is sacrilegious.

“EBay is committing a great sacrilege, and any church would tell you that,” said Soren Johnson, spokesman for the Arlington Diocese.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions … sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us.”

Last week, a wafer purportedly blessed by the recently deceased pope was sold on EBay for $2,000. The wafer was given to Monsignor Roger J. Augustine, administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, S.D., after the seller decided not to follow through with the transaction. The priest said he disposed of the wafer according to church law.

Christine Fino, 35, of Westminster, Md., said she learned of the auction from her brother, a Catholic priest who was ordained by John Paul in 1990.

“My reaction was disbelief, thinking it was a hoax. And then I was horrified,” she said.

Mrs. Fino said she has auctioned items on EBay for years but now plans to cancel her account.

“This, to me, is Jesus Christ. This is my whole faith right here. The most sacred thing we have isn’t protected. They have called it a collectible,” she said.

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