St James Cathedral - Seattle, WA

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Simony or Scam- Need a Rosary Blessed by the Pope?

Have you looked on eBay since the papal election?  If you haven't, go ahead and type "Pope Francis" into the search bar.  When I did it, there were 2,433 related things for sale.  You'll find all sorts of papal memorabilia, ranging from commemorative t-shirts to a large clock featuring the Holy Father's head.  Sadly, the first listing that came up for me was a little surprising: 50 rosaries supposedly blessed by Pope Francis on 3/14/2013.  The listing goes as far as to say "Great resale opportunity" and that each rosary comes with a "proof of blessing."  Want to see it yourself?  Here's a link to eBay item #251247240040.

So I guess I should provide some background about how people get religious articles blessed by the pope.  If you visit the Vatican and see the pope during his regular General Audience on Wednesdays, he will impart a formal Apostolic Blessing.  It's clearly stated that his intention is to bless all in attendance and any religious object brought to the audience for him to bless.  Most people bring crosses or religious medals, but to give you an idea of how far people take this, there were some pilgrims carrying a very large (and heavy) statue at the audience I attended with Benedict XVI. I had no idea how they got it there, or how they were going to get it back out.

Unfortunately, there's always people trying to make a quick buck (or a Euro in Italy), and will do so at the cost of sin. This sort of thing isn't anything new; even in the Old Testament sacred items were being traded for profit.  If you dig into eBay's history, you'll see where there has been ongoing scandal (that periodically catches media attention) including the selling of consecrated hosts, holy oils, various types of relics, and so forth.  Outside of any sinful intention, many Christians have created an online market on eBay for sought after relics because it's an easy way to obtain them for private veneration.  There are even religious groups that raise money to try to purchase authentic relics from eBay and other similar websites to prevent the sacred from being treated like tokens or artifacts. 

A big part of the problem is that it's hard to verify the authenticity of things.  For this particular auction listing for the blessed rosaries, it shows a picture of the "proof of blessing" that comes with each rosary.  Funny thing is, if you go to another auction listing by the same seller, what is supposed to be the pope's signature is very different! 

Besides, how do you know what the new pope's signature looks like? And just to clarify, the Vatican doesn't offer a "proof of blessing" on any random item that's brought to a papal audience, there's no way it could keep up with such a demand.

So let's pretend these rosaries were actually blessed by Pope Francis. If that's the case, then is it sinful to sell them? You bet it is. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls it simony. Paragraph 2121 clearly defines it and refers to Simon the magician who tried to purchase spiritual abilities from the Apostles Peter and John (Acts 8). Canon 1171 also addresses blessed objects: "Sacred things which are destined for divine worship through dedication or a blessing are to be treated with reverence and not be employed for improper or profane use even if they are under the control of private individuals."

You might be able to argue that the seller isn't selling the blessing, just the beads and chain that make up the rosary. Maybe the sale price covers the cost of the seller's time and efforts to obtain the rosaries and get them blessed.  Perhaps the seller is actually doing a service for people that can't get to the pope to get their rosary blessed.  I suppose you can make an argument for these points.  What I can say with certainty is if 90% of the price goes into the seller's pocket, then it's probably simony, a scam, or both.

Don't get me wrong.  It's good to offer a service for people, especially providing religious goods, and there's nothing wrong with making a living doing so.  It's perfectly acceptable for shrines and retreat centers to sell medals, crosses, and spiritual books.  It's great that your parish might have a gift shop that sells First Communion and Confirmation gifts which helps raise money for the church.  The big difference is that the clergy are happy to bless the items AFTER they are purchased, and you're not being lied to or scammed!

Some people might think I'm being too technical here, but the bottom line is that blessed objects aren't merchandise and shouldn't be sold.  If something is purchased and blessed afterwards, there's nothing wrong with that unless it's sold again, especially if it's being sold because it's blessed.  

So what do you do if you want to get a rosary blessed by the pope but can't get to Rome?  Anything but buy one already blessed.  The best thing to do is talk to a priest or vowed religious you know.  Chances are he/she can connect you with someone who is going to Rome or who is currently studying or working there.  That person can take your item or obtain one there for you, get it blessed by the pope, and get it back to you.  People who travel to Rome are asked to do this all the time.  Another option is contacting one of the reputable gift shops in Rome. A decent store near the Vatican will sell you the item, then take it to the next General Audience and have it blessed for no additional charge.  If the item is advertised as already blessed, or they charge you a fee for getting it blessed, then don't use them.

Final thought.  Want to know what's more important than a rosary blessed by the pope?  A rosary used for prayer.

* * *

3/21/2013 Update: I sent the eBay seller a message with a link to this blog article. To my surprise, he replied back. To be fair and charitable, what he wrote has been added as a comment below. I'm a little skeptical, but take a look and let me know what you think!  

Also, I did just find Pope Francis' signature with his official photo. You can see it here.


  1. Here is what the seller of the auction listing wrote when I contacted him to let him know about this article:

    "Hi, Thanks for doing that. It's good to double check that what we do is right. In this case you made good point. Let me tell you more about the rosaries and the background. We get the rosaries from Polish nuns in Rome, the nuns run several charity programs helping the poor and homeless and serving them over 750 hot meals every day. The nuns were among the first people that got the rosaries blessed by the New Pope. all the proceeds from selling the rosaries go back to the nuns so they could do what they are doing. People that buy the rosaries from us are being informed where the proceeds go. We dont want to put that info on the listing description but I see know that we should do it so that people like dont think the money goes to our pocket. We grew up in extreme poverty in one of the poorest parts of this planet and we know how important every way of helping other people is. This is why after meeting the nuns in 2009 we decided to do as much as we can to help them.

    Yes the rosaries are blessed. We spoke we a local priest here, he told us to sell the rosaries only and offer the blessing as a gift with it but the most important part is the help that is behind what we do. God Bless. Mike "

  2. Paul--

    Your post reminded me of the Rosary of the Unborn™. (And yes, the name is trademarked.)

    One (1) of these rosaries -- made of cheap plastic -- sells for a staggering $24.95.

    A woman in Ohio named Maureen Sweeney Kyle claimed that Our Lady appeared to her in 2001 and told her that for every Hail Mary prayed on a Rosary of the Unborn™ -- and only on a Rosary of the Unborn™ -- a baby will be saved from abortion.

    If only fighting abortion were that easy!

    The local ordinary (Bishop Richard Lennon of the Diocese of Cleveland) has said in no uncertain terms that these supposed apparitions and locutions are bunk, and that Holy Love Ministries (which produces the Rosary of the Unborn™) is bad news, and Catholics should stay away.

    A couple years back, one of my co-workers wrote a lengthy blog post about the situation, and it remains one of our most read and commented-on posts.

  3. Great article! I never thought about how selling blessed rosary beads could be sinful, but it does make sense. I know it's not recommended to buy them off someone either, but do you think that is just as sinful? I have been searching for rosaries for sale and would love to have ones that are blessed by the pope but I certainly want to obtain them in an honorable way.

    1. Hello Ann, the Vatican gift shop sells, and ships worldwide, lovely rosaries and other items which you can have blessed by the Pope. I have purchased several items from them, and I usually receive a personal email from a staff member there telling me when the item will be blessed so I know when it will be shipped.

  4. There are also prayer cards and medalsI purchased a Blessed with relics for sale on e bay at outrageous prices,the seller made the point that they were not charging for the relic just the medal or card ,but who would pay 30 euro or more for a card ,to make matters worse i received one of the cards offered for sale free on a site promoting devotion to that particular Saint.I remember reading somewhere that if a Blessed object is sold ,it loses the blessing.

  5. A local Benedictine monastary sells blessed St. Benedict medals. They say that they are doing it as an outreach to encourage the veneration of St. Benedict. They say that the medals are in exchange for a donation, ie. not for sale.

    It is true that the medals are very cheap compared to other sources. Is this simony?

    1. A monastery or anyone organization can sell medals and then after having sold them to customer x have it blessed before sending it out. And so in that way they could say sell a "blessed" medal and advertise blessed medals for sale. If the medal is blessed before selling it's simony.
      Of course sometimes people use the term blessed as in blessed Rosary for sale blessed St.Bede card for sale and it just means like holy object and it doesn't actually mean it's actually blessed blessed some people just use the term in a generic manner not necessarily meaning that it was actually blessed by someone. You should check what their meaning is before buying it but yes anything that's already been blessed actually blessed cannot be sold, it can be given away though but the blessing that was done upon it ceases to be and it has to be re blessed for the current user. Although it doesn't lose its holiness it's purification from the previous blessing or usage or dunking in a holy water font. Myself though is that I would still go out and re immerse / submerge it into another vat of holy water. I do that myself on a regular basis actually rather often to re purify my rosary specifically but other objects as well such as my Saint Benedict bracelet.


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