The upper echelons of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy have had quite a dizzying summer. First, Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s no. 1 cleric and a senior adviser to Pope Francis, got arrested back home for sexually assaulting children over several decades. Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to face such charges in a while, which shows how the Church has sort of failed to take the issue seriously after 15-plus years of similar revelations spanning three papacies.
Then there was a drug-fueled gay orgy in the Holy See itself, which frankly sounds like the absolute greatest party of all time. (Speaking only for myself, I’ve always wanted to do it on a 400-year-old bed beneath a Caravaggio or a Bosch.) Neighbors complained, and while consensual gay sex is not technically illegal in Vatican City, the apartment belonged to yet another close adviser to Francis who also happened to be a member of the ideological watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is kind of like uncovering serious corruption within a police department’s internal affairs unit. Ruh-roh, Spaghetti-Os.
What’s the Pope’s response to this summer of shit? Banning gluten-free Communion wafers, apparently. Because why tackle the apparently insurmountable problem of handsy-gropey when you can stick it to the celiac crowd? In a letter to bishops issued Saturday, the allegedly cool Pope who partied with U2 and accepted a drone from Mark Zuckerberg and tools around the Vatican in a used Renault, issued some fairly strict guidelines about what has to go into the dry, relatively flavorless crackers (emphasis ours):
The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament. It is a grave abuse to introduce other substances, such as fruit or sugar or honey, into the bread for confecting the Eucharist. Hosts should obviously be made by those who are not only distinguished by their integrity, but also skilled in making them and furnished with suitable tools.
It’s not entirely a buzzkill, however, as the same letter goes on to state that Communion wine has to be unadulterated as well. It must be “natural, from the fruit of the grape, pure and incorrupt, not mixed with other substances.” GMO varietals are fine, too.
This all pertains to the dogma of transubstantiation, which states that, by blessing the bread and wine during Mass, a Catholic priest transforms them into the body and blood of Christ. It’s explicitly not symbolic; it really is the flesh of Jesus. That would explain the finicky emphasis on the integrity of the bread — but the timing and the retreat into abstract doctrinal concerns suggests a “Hey, look over there!” strategy. In any case, if you’re a church-going Catholic who can’t tolerate gluten yet who wants to remain in good standing with your God, you have our sympathies.