Sale of saint relics on eBay sparks Catholic outcry

Relics Addie Mena CNA Relics at St. Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Aug. 7, 2015. | Addie Mena/CNA.

Ryan Scheel was shopping for a rosary on eBay when one listing caught him off guard.

A first class relic of the bone of a saint, still in its wax-sealed reliquary, was listed for sale – to the tune of $3,600.

"The listing was crass enough to even describe the relic as 'ex ossibus,' a Latin term meaning 'from the bones,'" Scheel told CNA e-mail comments.

He decided to further search the online auction site, and found "pages and pages" of other first class relics for sale, violating eBay's own policy that prohibits the sale of human body parts, other than human scalp hair.

Scheel, who is also the founder and editor of the Catholic resource site uCatholic, said he tried to use eBay's "Report Item" feature in order to alert the site of the first class relics, but he said the closest option given from the available drop-down list states: "The item in this listing is an artifact, fossil, or relic taken from federal or state public land or Native American land or battlefield."

Catholic News Agency reached out to eBay for comment on this issue, but did not receive a response by press time.

The listing of first class relics "is incredibly insensitive to the Catholic faith in way I doubt would be tolerated for other religions," Scheel said.

"But also...common decency should tell eBay that profiting off of the sale of body parts is ghastly and unethical, no matter who the remains belonged to in life."

That's why Scheel decided to launch a petition calling for eBay to remove the listings of the first class relics. He hopes to obtain signatures from at least 25,000 Catholics in order to alert the site of the illicit sales.

"The sale of Catholic Relics is not only a great and terrible offense against the Catholic faith, it is also explicitly against your very own corporate policy concerning the sale of human body parts and remains," the petition reads.
"As a Catholic, we ask that you remove all current listings of Catholic relics containing the mortal remains of the Saints and actively monitor and prohibit any future listings," it continues.

Scheel told CNA that it appears that the people listing the relics seem to somehow be bypassing the ban on the sale of human body parts, but on eBay's part, "the issue here seems like one of enforcement, and hopefully not ill-will or religious insensitivity."

The policies of eBay technically allow for the sale of second and third class relics, or first class relics of objects such as the cross or the shroud of Turin.

However, Schell said "eBay should also forbid this out of common respect for the Catholic Faith."

Code of Canon Law 1190 states that it is "absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics," whether or not they are human remains.   

Some have argued that what is for sale is the reliquary itself, and not the relic.

However, in the case of many of the first class relics for sale on eBay – some of which are going for thousands of dollars - that seems to not be the case, said JD Flynn, a canon lawyer and director of communications for the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb.

"Here's what needs to be considered: is the reliquary being sold for a price comparable to that of similar objects which do not contain relics?  If a silver box containing Mother Teresa's eyelashes costs $1,000, and a silver box with no eyelashes costs $100, it's very difficult to argue that the person is not engaging in the sacrilege of simony," Flynn told CNA.

More in US

Simony is a sacrilegious practice that consists in buying and selling what is spiritual (relics) in return for what is temporal (money).  

In the case of the eBay relics, Flynn said, it may be permissible for Catholics to buy the listed relics in order to protect them from further harm or desecration.

"For example, it would be hard to justify getting into a bidding war with other devout Catholics for a relic, but it would be easy to understand getting into a bidding war for a relic with the owners of some hipster bar that wants relics for decorations," Flynn said.

"But in such a situation, the merchant is obviously engaged in simony."

The full petition can be found at:

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.