2008 sacred wafer scandal/facts

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2008-06-29: the incident

The 2008 sacred wafer scandal began on 2008-06-29 when University of Central Florida undergraduate student government senator Webster Cook was attending communion at the University's Catholic Campus Ministries club service on the UCF campus in Orlando, Florida. As part of the communion ritual, he was given an item referred to by Catholics as a consecrated host – which is, in practical terms, a particular type of edible wafer which has been subjected to a Catholic consecration ceremony – with the understanding that he was to eat it as part of the Catholic Eucharist ceremony.

Wishing to show the item to a fellow student senator in order to explain more about the Catholic faith, he retained it and went to sit down, intending to eat it afterwards. Someone apparently objected to this [and apparently there is some dispute over whether this was an unfortunate event or not, although it is common enough in many Catholic churches], and attempted to wrestle it from Mr. Cook's hands:

From a WFTV report, 2008-07-05:

"When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him*," Cook said. "I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they'd leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth."

A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that's why he brought it home with him.

"She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand," Cook said, adding she wouldn't immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.

* "him" refers to Cook's fellow student senator who was visiting the church with Cook

It is apparently more or less at this point that Mr. Cook left the church, taking the item with him.

subsequent events

The Catholic community promptly went into an uproar, fueled in part by remarks by officials at The Catholic League (US), a Catholic advocacy organization not affiliated with the Catholic Church:

from a Fox News Orlando report, 2008-07-07:

"We don't know 100% what Mr. Cook's motivation was," said Susan Fani, a spokesperson with the local Catholic diocese. "However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it."

Mr. Cook subsequently received threats of death and other harm from those supporting the Catholic side of the disagreement. He also returned the item, apparently never having intended to keep it indefinitely or harm it, though the death threats may have played a part in his decision.

The story apparently first hit the web on July 5 in an online article by WFTV 9, a local TV station.

On July 6, a post on the Creative Minority Report blog strongly condemned Cook's actions and many commenters on the posting were also supportive of further physical action against Mr. Cook. The blog moderator shut down commenting apparently due to a number of dissenting comments, however, which he claimed did not "follow the rules"; these comments were also removed.

On July 7, the Orlando Fox News affiliate reported that Cook was receiving death threats. This article and the July 5 WFTV article apparently came to the attention of PZ Myers, outspoken defender and advocate of atheism.

On July 8, PZ posted in Webb's support, decrying the responses of the Catholic community as "Dark Age superstition and malice, all thriving with the endorsement of secular institutions here in 21st century America" and "a culture of deluded lunatics" and sending out a call for further ritually-prepared crackers on which he planned to commit more "desecration".

At this point, PZ himself became the target of death threats and attempts by Catholic League president Bill Donohue to have PZ fired or otherwise censured for his conduct. Much debate ensued throughout the blogosphere, and the dust has not yet settled as of this writing.

On July 13, a Pharyngula reader obtained a consecrated Host from a service at the Brompton Oratory, London (recording a video of the abduction in the process), and subsequently mailed it to PZ for desecration. (He later leaves a comment on Pharyngula taking credit for the deed and providing a video link.)

On or about July 23, PZ desecrates the cracker, along with one copy each of the Koran and The God Delusion.

On July 24, the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy calls for PZ to be fired.

There have been further events since this time; although Cook was not expelled, he was impeached from his position in the Student Council for his actions in the incident. Catholic League president Bill Donohue now claims PZ Myers started the whole thing.