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Sacred relics sold on eBay: Boycott urged

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (The Catholic Standard and Times) - The flesh and bones of our canonized saints are being auctioned off to the highest bidder every day on the popular on-line auction site, eBay, and some Catholics think the only way to stop the practice is to boycott the site.

After years of wrangling with eBay management, the Los-Angeles based International Crusade for Holy Relics (ICHR) is calling for a boycott of eBay until the company becomes more vigilant about removing the relics from its site. “We've been fighting them for years,” said Tom Serafin, president of ICHR. “You get tired of fighting such a big monster.” An ICHR team that included a Russian archbishop, an oncologist and forensic pathologists did succeed in convincing the on-line giant that, because first-class relics are bone and flesh fragments, selling them on-line violates eBay’s policy against selling human body parts, Serafin said. “The problem is they’re not enforcing their own rules,” he said. “They just tell you to file a complaint, but their complaint process only generates about 20 percent success rate in getting an item removed.” A year ago, a consecrated host was sold on the site. No amount of complaints moved eBay to pull the item. “The sale stopped only because a Catholic priest in northern California bought it - eBay never did a thing about it,” Serafin said. As a result of its refusal to act, dozens of sacred relics are offered for sale on the Web site at any given moment. For instance, on the day we checked, we found a relic of the true cross of Jesus Christ being sold for $799. Bidding on an “extremely rare” collection of red liturgical vestments used by Pope St. Pius X in his private Vatican chapel started at $1,650. And a piece of hair from St. John Bosco could be had for just $20. Although eBay did not return calls for comment, they have told other news outlets that there are 105 million items for sale on the site with 6 million new ones added every day, and because of that, they can’t guarantee that nothing illicit gets posted. “They say they can’t police their own Web site but that’s a lazy excuse,” Serafin said. “I’ll guarantee you that if you can find an automatic weapon, child pornography, drug paraphernalia - somehow they stop it. Why not the bones of our saints?” Another problem is created when people sell the relics and circumvent eBay rules by claiming they are selling the container of relics, called a reliquary, and giving away the relic for free. We found the seller of a St. Peregrine medal whose item description claimed. “You are bidding on one St. Peregrine medal, patron saint of cancer patients. It has a relic attached to the back. You are bidding on the medal. The relic is free.” Unfortunately, eBay is not the only place where relics are being sold on-line. Serafin’s group organized in 1999 when it became apparent that the Internet was fueling a burgeoning black market in relics — both fake and authentic — which are routinely sold at grossly inflated prices. “There is a big black market out there for relics,” Serafin said. “And there are a lot of fake relics. I once saw a feather in a reliquary that someone claimed was from the wing of the Holy Spirit, and someone bought it. There was an empty locket sold that the seller claimed was the air that Jesus breathed. There was a bogus hand of St. Stephen of Hungary for sale. I contacted Budapest, and got an e-mail back from a chancellor who said, ‘Rest assured we still have the hand.’” Serafin’s group, which has about 200 members, rescues authentic, first-class relics by buying them. The group is also involved in restoring diocesan relic collections. Through the Apostolate of Holy Relics (AHR) the ICHR exhibits many of the rescued relics around the country, with the hope of promoting proper veneration and appreciation. In 2003, Cardinal Roger Mahony authorized the loan of the “Tilma of Tepeyac” relic to the AHR, which toured the United States and included a stop in Philadelphia. The demand for relics on the black market forces Serafin’s group to stay vigilant. While on a recent tour of Hawaii with relics of the Passion, Serafin noticed a man who was following him from church to church. Finally, the man approached him to ask permission to touch his rosary to the reliquary. Serafin allowed it and turned away for only a moment. By the time he looked back, the man had already pried out the relic with the cross of his rosary. “A tremendous number of relics have been stolen overseas and imported into the country,” he said. “That even happens here. … We had relics on exhibit in Pasadena and they were stolen.” Sellers of the objects need to be aware that, according to Canon Law, they are participating in the forbidden practice of simony, which is the selling of sacred objects such as relics, blessings, and indulgences. “Don’t people realize that the sale of relics is one of the things that got us Catholics in such hot water during the Reformation?” writes Ann Ball, the popular Catholic author. Ball was horrified to find out that a relic she had given to someone had been sold on eBay for $46. “This horrified me and made me both sad and angry,” she wrote in an article “The Joke’s on Us! (The Shame of Simony on the Internet).” “Because the relics sold on eBay reminded me of a giant, Middle-Ages marketplace. . . . A relic is a sacramental — not a holy rabbit’s foot or good luck charm.” Serafin wants Catholics to boycott eBay until the site gets serious about stopping the sale of sacred relics. “How much money do they make at e-Bay and, proportionately, how much money are relics going to bring in? Maybe $10,000 or $20,000 a quarter. That’s nothing,” he said. “But look how much it offends people.” Those wishing to protest respectuflly the sale of relics on eBay may do so by contacting eBay President and CEO Meg Whitman at eBay, Inc., 2145 Hamilton Avenue, San Jose, California, 95125; by calling 800-322-9266; or e-mailing rswebhelp@ebay.com.

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This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Catholic Standard and Times (www.cst-phl.com), official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pa.

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1 - 2 of 2 Comments

  1. Theresa DeSensi
    2 years ago

    As a catholic I am also very sadden when I see relics for sale on ebay. I am also a senior citizen and I am on disability. But I thought that maybe some of the ones they are selling that are not so expensive I could buy just to rescue them. Mostly they are holy cards and badges. some of which I have received from religious communities and are considered third class relics. Is it permitted to buy them to be rescued as I said before.

  2. Mirna Abboud
    3 years ago

    Hi I bought many relics from ebay before reading your article that made me in a shock because i paid lots of money and now i am concerned are the relics that i bought fake or not? i am a catholic and i believe in holy relics but i leave in australia and i cannot find relics here in the churches. So please may you tell me where to get real holy relics and how should i know that the relics that i have bought are not fake. Your help is greatly appreciated and god bless

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