A couple of conservative news sources are reporting that a college student in Florida is being threatened in this life and beyond for having removed a consecrated wafer from a Catholic Church. It first was placed into Webster Cook’s mouth during Communion and at some point thereafter, he decided to take it out. Allegedly, a church official then tried to pry the wafer out of his hands, and Cook responded by putting it in a Ziploc bag and leaving the premises. He voluntarily returned it later on in the week, after receiving death threats and assurances of eternal damnation.
Bill Donahue from the Catholic League is pissed:
“For a student to disrupt Mass by taking the Body of Christ hostage – regardless of the alleged nature of his grievance – is beyond hate speech. That is why the [university] administration needs to act swiftly and decisively in seeing that justice is done. All options should be on the table, including expulsion.”
And, a spokesperson from the local diocese is calling it a hate crime:
“We don’t know 100 percent what Mr. Cook’s motivation was…however, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.”
Hmm. Well, that would seem difficult, since a hate crime first and foremost is defined as “…a criminal offense…” Oops. So much for that. It also must be “…committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.” This will also be difficult to prove, given that Cook is Catholic.
Here are my immediate thoughts:
- How is this possibly considered a hate crime? There’s no crime, and no evidence of bias. These accusers don’t even seem to know what constitutes a hate crime.
- There are some really interesting Christological issues here, especially considering the traditional Catholic view of transubstantiation. If the consecrated bread-become-body of Jesus leaves the church, what happens to it, theologically speaking? Surely this is written somewhere?
- My theology of communion really privileges the sovereignty of God. In my view, mere humans do not have the power to make – or break – the sanctity of the Eucharist. Either Jesus will be present to us in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup, or not – but I absolutely do not believe that humans have the power to defile that which God has made holy. That limits the power of God too much for me.
- If this is a hate crime, what’s the crime? If this is to be viewed as Cook “stealing” a Catholic artifact (the consecrated wafer), at what point does the bread/wine become transferred to the parishioner?
- It may go against Catholic doctrine, but is it also a “hate crime” or “hate speech” for a non-Catholic to take Communion at a closed Catholic table? I mean, she would likewise be “stealing” a consecrated Catholic artifact too, if that is indeed the root of the problem.
- Bottom line: Jesus is a big boy. If he is so vulnerable that improper handling of the consecrated elements pose a viable threat to his sovereignty, than perhaps Cook should get expelled. But if the risen Christ is, as I suspect, actually strong enough to survive this affront…perhaps the local (and national) Catholic authorities are going a little overboard here, no?