eBay embroiled in row after relic of Catholic saint found for sale

Pope Francis prays before the Shroud of Turin during a two-day pastoral visit in Turin, Italy, June 21, 2015.Reuters

A Catholic has started a petition against eBay after discovering a first class relic of the bone of a saint for sale on the auction website.

Ryan Scheel, the founder and editor of the Catholic resource site uCatholic, came across the relic, still in its wax-sealed reliquary and listed for sale at $3,600.

"The listing was crass enough to even describe the relic as 'ex ossibus,' a Latin term meaning 'from the bones,'" Scheel told the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

Scheel subsequently found "pages and pages" of other first class relics for sale, apparently violating eBay's own policy that prohibits the sale of human body parts, other than human scalp hair, CNA reported.

Scheel said that he tried to use eBay's 'Report Item' feature in order to alert the site, but he said the closest option given from the available drop-down list states: "The item in this listing is an artefact, fossil, or relic taken from federal or state public land or Native American land or battlefield."

eBay has so far declined to comment.

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."

Scheel has launched a petition and said he hopes to obtain signatures from at least 25,000 Catholics in order to alert the site of the illicit sales.

The petition reads: "The sale of Catholic Relics is not only a great and terrible offence against the Catholic faith, it is also explicitly against your very own corporate policy concerning the sale of human body parts and remains...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."

Scheel acknowledged that "the issue here seems like one of enforcement, and hopefully not ill-will or religious insensitivity."

CNA said that 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.

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

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

There is a debate in Catholic circles as to whether the reliquary itself is chiefly for sale, and not the relic.

But JD Flynn, a canon lawyer and director of communications for the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, said this was not the case in this instance.

"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.

CNA defined simony as "a sacrilegious practice that consists in buying and selling what is spiritual (relics) in return for what is temporal (money)."

Flynn said that under some circumstances it would be justifiable for Catholics to purchase 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," he said. "But in such a situation, the merchant is obviously engaged in simony."

Joe Ronan of Catholic Voices told Christian Today: "The sale of the relics of Saints is explicitly forbidden by Catholic Canon Law, and for relics of particular standing then the permission of the local Bishop, and in some cases the Vatican, would be required before they were moved or changed in any way. While eBay policies on the sale of human body parts would appear to not allow such sales unless they only consist of human scalp hair, those enforcing the rules may not realise that many relics fall into this category. One would hope that now that it has been brought to their attention they will act quickly to prevent this abuse of sacred items. Apart from that there would also be questions of whether the items were stolen, and certainly issues of legitimate ownership, as any particular notable relic should have a clear provenance. In 2008 a similar complaint was made of ebay and Vatican Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, said the sale of relics of the saints on eBay is "totally unacceptable business." eBay should investigate this continuing abuse of Catholic artifacts and ensure that they act quickly to remove listings from those promoting them."

The petition can be found here.