Diocesan investigators conclude bacteria caused host to appear to bleed

SALT LAKE CITY — An investigation by the Diocese of Salt Lake City into a report that a consecrated host at a Catholic church allegedly was bleeding has concluded the host did not bleed and the change in its appearance was caused by red bread mold.

“The consecrated host has been disposed of in a reverent manner, as is required,” the diocese said in a Dec. 16 statement.

An ad hoc committee appointed to investigate the matter “unanimously concludes that the observed change in the host was not miraculous but resulted from the growth of red bread mold,” the diocese said.

The committee “determined the need to establish proper protocols for clergy dealing with such situations in the future,” it said, and urged Catholics to take “this opportunity to renew their faith and devotion in the great miracle” of Christ’s real presence, “which takes place at every Eucharist.”

The statement explained the timeline from when parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Church in Kearns first reported the alleged bleeding host to the naming of an ad hoc committee to review the matter to the completion of the investigation.

At the Kearns church, on the weekend of Nov. 14-15, it was alleged that a host consecrated a week earlier, at the 1:30 p.m. Mass Nov. 8, appeared to be bleeding. The host was publicly displayed at parish Masses, the diocese said.

“In the wake of the excitement generated by the premature and imprudent public display and veneration of the host,” it said, Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, administrator of the diocese, appointed an ad hoc committee to investigate the situation Nov. 19.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, a retired Salt Lake City pastor, was named chairman and committee members were appointed for their expertise in Catholic theology, canon law, molecular biology and ministry.

The committee “took into careful consideration all the events” as reported by Father Eugenio Yarce, the pastor, as well as numerous accounts from parishioners.

“A crucial element of these events was the fact that the host in question was left unprotected and unattended in a dish of water” from about Nov. 8 to Nov. 14, the diocese said.

It enlisted the services of “a competent and credible scientist” to “conduct controlled testing” of the host.

“Great care was taken to ensure the reverent handling of the consecrated host throughout the scientific examination,” the diocese said.

After all the testing, the scientist, aided by “a blind observer,” concluded that the observed change in the host could be satisfactorily and conclusively explained by natural causes,” said the diocese, “namely the growth of what is commonly known as ‘red bread mold,’ or red bacteria, most likely Neurospora cressa or Serratia marcescens.”

Because the host had been displayed before the investigation, reports about it — with digital photos and videos — circulated quickly in the local and national media, the diocese said.

“Predictably, these reports led to rash speculation about what caused the change in the color of the host,” the diocese said.

“In the history of the church, by divine providence, miracles have taken place,” said the diocesan statement, which was signed by Msgr. Mannion.

“The sole purpose of a miracle is to bring about good. False claims of miracles, on the other hand, cause harm to the faithful and damage the church’s credibility,” it continued. “While not dismissing the possibility of miracles, understanding the potential harm of hastily jumping to conclusions should cause all the faithful, lay and clergy alike, to act with great prudence.”

When the church is confronted with phenomena like that reported at St. Francis Xavier Parish, “the guidance of competent ecclesiastical authority is required,” the statement said.

It added that the Catholic Church “presumes that most situations appearing to be extraordinary phenomena are actually the result of natural causes. This is why the church sets the evidentiary bar for proving a miracle quite high.”