So, some group of Satanists is planning a “Black Mass” where they will, among other things, desecrate an allegedly consecrated Host, that is, the body, blood, and soul of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some have raised questions over whether or not the Host has actually been consecrated; others have asked how it is this Satanist group has come by this Host. Now it has come out that the Archbishop of Oklahoma City — where this Mass is, allegedly, going to be performed — is suing to have the Host returned to them. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA and the founder of the Volokh Conspiracy web-log, has weighed-in on the matter here. He draws some analogies in order to determine, in the abstract, if the Catholic Church has a legal interest in the return of the Host. Upon learning of the Satanists’ claim that they have a “double agent” priest within the Church who supplied them with the Host, this is what Volokh has to say on the matter:
But if the Satanists got a renegade priest to say some words over a piece of bread that wasn’t owned by the Catholic Church, even if this action was specifically forbidden by the Church, then the bread wouldn’t be owned by the Church. The analogy would be if a Padres player wore his own shirt during practice and then sold it to a fan — something the Padres-player contract specifically forbade. The player would then be violating his contract, but the Padres wouldn’t get ownership rights to the shirt as a result of the breach of the contract (at least unless the contract was very specific on the player expressly transferring his property rights in all shirts he wears during practice; the Church’s petition doesn’t plead the analog of that, I think). Likewise, the Satanists would be able to lawfully acquire this host, which by hypothesis the Church never owned and never lent out on restricted terms.
This seems wrong to me. I think the better analogy would be if I, the CEO of Corporation A, either gave a person who worked at Corporation B (or the person who worked at Corporation B supplied) a sheet of paper upon which he printed out a corporate secret which he was neither entitled to distribute nor I was entitled to receive. Just because the piece of paper was originally mine (or originally his) does not mean that now that it is in my possession, I am allowed to retain what the paper contains. Analogously, supplying a priest with bread — or the priest supply his own bread — does not entitle him to do with that bread as he pleases nor give it to whom he wishes. And should he consecrate the bread validly, that does not mean either he or the external supplier now has a right to the bread. In fact, it is no longer bread at all; it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, just as the blank sheet of paper is no longer a blank sheet of paper but rather, for example, the formula for a new groundbreaking pharmaceutical or a key piece of programming code. If I may be Scholastic for a moment, the matter is not the issue; the substance is. The Satanists noted above are not in possession of the matter of bread; they are in possession of the substance of Christ. Just the same, following my example above, Corporation B is not in possession of the matter of paper; it is in possession of the substance of Corporation A’s trade secret. (One might, in fact, call it a mystery.)