Saturday, August 23, 2014

An Interesting Lawsuit

Earlier this week the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City filed a lawsuit against the group that has rented the city's Civic Center City Theater to perform a "Black Mass" on September 21. The object of the suit was to retrieve the consecrated Host, which the event's organizers purported to have for use in their sacrilegious event. "Our contention is that they are in possession of stolen property," argued the Archbishop. "They cannot complete their satanic ritual without a consecrated host, and they have no means of acquiring one except through theft."

This legal tactic seems to have worked. The Host was soon turned over to a representative of the Archdiocese, along with a signed statement that the group no longer possesses a Host and will not use one in its ritual. "We stared down the devil and he blinked," commented an archdiocesan attorney. "We had no doubt the Court would respect our argument - rooted in both Canon and civil law - which maintains that all Consecrated Hosts belong to the Church. ... Any time anyone tries to desecrate this blessed property, we will be there to stop them."

Thanks be to God, that this one sacred Host has been saved from profanation in Oklahoma! But the implications of this suit certainly extend beyond this one case - as the lawyer's final sentence quoted above intriguingly suggests.

The satanic group in question claims to have gotten the Host from a priest, who actually consecrated it for that purpose! A more likely occurrence, however, in more ordinary circumstances is the misuse (whether sacrilegiously intended or not) of a host that someone has received in the ordinary course of the distribution of Holy Communion. A perennial concern for priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion has to be to make sure that everyone who receives a sacred Host at Communion time actually consumes it - then and there. It has not been unheard of for someone, who obviously should not be going up for Communion, to receive a Host and to walk off with it, apparently not knowing what to do with it. And there have also been other stories of people taking a Host home with them without proper authorization. (I have always assumed that this is the principal reason why, when distributing Holy Communion at papal Mass in Saint Peter's, where the congregation consists of all kinds of curious tourists as well as devout pilgrims, we were given strict instructions to administer the sacrament only on the tongue and not in the hand.)

Problematic as all such episodes are, obviously the worst one is when a Host is taken for the purpose of deliberate desecration. In its internal law, of course, canon 1367 penalizes anyone who intentionally takes a Host to throw it away or use it for sacrilegious purposes. But that is only the Church's internal law - not evidently enforceable externally. But the legal, "property rights" argument offered in the Oklahoma City case offers promising possibilities for protecting the Host through the mechanism of civil law against anyone attempting to take a Host to keep or use for any purpose other than the one purpose for which it is intended. It will be interesting to see if and when and in what context this argument is utilized again.

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