A cautionary tale

I found this at CMR:

You know there’s a looooooong history to a story like this. But here’s the upshot as it’s being reported. A priest had a mother and her daughter ticketed by police for tresspasing after it was reported that the woman’s daughter spit out the host in the parking lot after a previous Mass.

The DestinLog reports:

Navarre resident Jackie Trebesh said she was flabbergasted and irritated when a Catholic priest denied her and her daughter Holy Communion, and then had a Santa Rosa County deputy pull her over.

She said she was so surprised by the actions of The Rev. John Kelly at St. Sylvester’s Catholic Church in Gulf Breeze she thought at first she was being “pranked.”

“He’s not God. He can’t do that to people,” she said.

Trebesh said she and her 19-year-old daughter Rachel attended a Friday morning service and were turned away when they approached the priest to take Holy Communion.

Trebesh said Kelly told them, as he denied them communion, that he would explain his actions after the mass had ended.

She said she decided not to wait around for the end of the service and had left the church parking lot when a deputy pulled her over.

Trebesh said the deputy informed her that Kelly had requested the traffic stop. She and her daughter were issued trespass warnings.

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Catholic Church confirmed much of her story, but said there were justifiable reasons for their actions.

According to Trebesh, she learned the reason she was denied communion was because someone at the church had seen the daughter dispose of the host, as it is called, improperly in the church parking lot.

The Catholic Church believes the wafer provided during Holy Communion to have been transformed during the mass to the actual body of Christ.

“The matter of disposing of the Eucharist in an inappropriate way is a serious matter to us,” Peggy Dekeyser, the communications officer for the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee said in confirming Trebesh’s theory.

Trebesh said the only thing she could think of that Kelly or anyone else might have seen her daughter do was “spit out a piece of gum in the parking lot.”

Asked if the substance of the item Rachel Trebesh was seen disposing of had been verified, Dekeyser declined comment.

Sgt. Scott Haines with the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office verified the fact Trebesh was pulled over as she left St. Sylvester’s Church. He said the church had requested Trebesh be given a trespass warning.

“We issued the trespass warning on behalf of the church,” Haines said. “They were banned from being on the property.”

The diocese’s spokesperson said they’d be willing to speak further to the woman and her daughter concerning the issue.

You know this sadly won’t be the end of this story.

All I can think is that I wish we could have this priest transferred over to Nancy Pelosi’s parish.

This isn’t going to be pretty.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    Do incidents like this happen on purpose because people are ignorant? Or, are such incidents orchestrated to bring negative responses to the Church? The Church is so vulnerable, as is Christ in the Eucharist. Abuses like this can only serve to turn a bad light onto the Church for being “difficult” or “exclusive”. This is a good priest and his has the diocese behind him, it seems. There is more to this story. God protect this priest, the diocese, and all priests.

  2. basilorat says:

    Huzzah!!!! FINALLY! It’s about damn time. If people don’t know how to behave in Church or elsewhere, then sadly it must be legislated. The same with ACT-UP! and the ilk. Arrest them on charges of vandalism. It’s not like anyone doesn’t know the rules going in.

  3. Huzzah to the good priest

  4. benedetta says:

    Note that the diocese’s representative leaves the door open for the woman and her daughter to reconcile with the Church, which in reality is quite generous (given the actions alleged) and a good pastoral approach, as is often the case for our Church even when it risks being labeled as tough or worse. One commenter noted on cmr that the woman took off without waiting to discuss it, whereas if it were just misunderstanding one could wait around a few moments to have the discussion.

  5. Stephen Matthew says:

    On the one hand, I hope that this girld did not really do something so disrespectful and sacrilegious with the Eucharist, I hope there was some mistake and such a thing did not happen.

    On the other hand, I hope the priest has not made a mistake and that he was taking a necessary action based on valid information.

    I can’t help but think that had these two stayed after mass that the matter could have easily been cleared up if it were a mistake, and if it is a real issue it could have been addressed without involving the civil authorities.

  6. mlwalker1972 says:

    I applaud the priest for standing to protect the Eucharist.

    If there was a mistake, or the person who reported the daughter had lied, then the woman and her daughter should have stayed to clear it up. If the daughter had really spit out the Eucharist, then the woman should severely reprimand her daughter, etc. If she thought it was “no big deal”, then she doesn’t believe in the real presence, and hence should not be taking the Eucharist anyway.

    I find the idea that “it could have been gum” a bit strange. What would the girl have been doing chewing gum in church? It would take quite a feat to take the Eucharist, finish Mass, head out the door to go to the car, chew gum, finish the gum before reaching the car, and spitting it out. Something doesn’t sound right with that story.

  7. Philangelus says:

    I’m surprised that anyone who would think it’s no big deal to desecrate the Eucharist (or even be accused of it) would be at a daily Mass. That’s actually the oddest detail to me. That and wondering how the priest managed to alert the police in time to pull the woman over, since she left before Mass was finished and presumably, he finished saying Mass before calling the police.

  8. cothrige says:


    You make an excellent point in wondering what somebody with apparent indifference about the Eucharist, or worse yet someone who would want to desecrate it, would be doing at daily Mass. It is a very odd detail indeed. And I had also wondered how the police were called in such quick time given that these people were said to have left Mass before it ended. The facts just seem so strange to me.

  9. catholicmidwest says:

    Stephen Matthew,
    That’s a pretty naive take on this, I think. People do some pretty strange things and this sounds like one of them.

    And mlwalker1972,
    People do chew gum in Mass. Seen it plenty of times, myself, chewing away on the old cud in an unmistakeable way, they are. Don’t have the heart (or the stomach) to watch & see if they spit it out before getting into line. It’s a “chalk-it-up” thing for me. Nothing I can do. Saying something will get you nothing but defiance about 90% of the time and a deer in the headlights look the rest of the time.

  10. Trevor says:

    I hope the parish verified that the object that was spit out was in fact the remains of a Host, and not chewing gum as the mother claimed. Because if it was gum, then this priest better buckle down.

    And even if it was verified to be a Host, I don’t know if it was wise to issue a restraining order BEFORE ever talking to the the young woman or her mother. Sacrilege is an offense, yes, but it could have been prevented a second time by the priest if the priest would have talked to the woman beforehand and determined whether she was fit to receive. Having a cop waiting at the next Mass to give a trespass warning only adds gas to the flames.

  11. amenamen says:

    Is there more to the story?

    The article implies, but does not state, that the entire incident took place in the one or two minutes that it would take for the 19 year old woman and her mother to receive Holy Communion and walk directly to the car. Even if the sheriff were already on church property when the sacrilege took place, it seems impossible to construct a timeline that can explain what happened in such a brief encounter.

    There are many questions that occur to me. Some, because the story is obviously incomplete. Some, because the odd behavior of the woman and her mother cry out for some further explanation. It seems that the priest handled the situation with perfectly good judgment and pastoral concern, protecting the Blessed Sacrament from further profanation, and yet providing an opportunity for the woman and her mother to speak to him privately after Mass. The diocese seems to be responding appropriately, too. Here are a few questions that the article raises in my mind:

    1. How much time elapsed after the 19 year old woman received Holy Communion until she discarded the Eucharist in the parking lot? How many witnesses saw what happened? Did she throw it on the ground? Had she carried it outside in her hands? Or did she “spit it out”, as the mother suggested? Was the host recovered? How did the witnesses notify the sheriff? How long did it take for the sheriff to respond?
    2. How much time elapsed from the sacrilege until the mother came to the priest for Holy Communion?
    3. How did the priest know what had happened outside in the parking lot, before the mother came up for Communion? How and when was he notified? Had he seen the 19 year old woman carry the host away from the altar?
    4. How did the priest know that this was the mother of the 19 year old woman? It seems that the mother could not have been immediately behind the 19 year old, if the priest already knew what had happened outside in the parking lot.
    5. Did the sacrilege happen on the same day? Or had it happened on a previous occasion? Did the sacrilege occur only once? How many times has it happened before? Had the 19 year old woman been warned not to come onto church property on a previous occasion? In the article, the mother said that the priest had denied Holy Communion to “her AND her daughter”. Is this a misquote, or had the daughter also been denied Holy Communion on that occasion?
    6. Is the 19 year old woman a Catholic? Had she made her First Communion?
    7. Is the 19 year old woman a parishioner? Does the priest know her and recognize her? Does he know the family? Could there have been a long history of trouble that preceded this unfortunate event? Was there any other unusual behavior that alerted the priest to a problem?
    8. The article mentions the 19 year old woman and her mother. Is there a father? Where is he?
    9. Was the 19 year old woman chewing gum (as her mother suggested) while receiving Holy Communion?
    10. Do the woman and her mother regularly leave the church before Mass is over?
    11. Is the parish church now considered desecrated? (Maybe not, since the profanation took place outside).

    Can. 1211 Sacred places are desecrated by acts done in them which are gravely injurious and give scandal to the faithful when, in the judgement of the local Ordinary, these acts are so serious and so contrary to the sacred character of the place that worship may not be held there until the harm is repaired by means of the penitential rite which is prescribed in the liturgical books.

    12. The incident happened on a Friday morning? Do these two women regularly attend Mass on weekday mornings? Was there a special reason for them to be at Mass that day?

    Of course, some of these questions will never be answered in the public forum

  12. mibethda says:

    To provide some further detail, according to a comment appended to the story on the CMR website by a parishoner, Fr. Kelly had announced at the church sometime prior to this incident that, on two occasions, Hosts had been found in the parking lot. He apparently advised parishioners of the gravity of this matter and instructed that they should not leave the church without consuming the Host.

  13. amenamen says:

    Oh. I see, the CMR article did state that the sacrilege had happened “after a previous Mass.” The priest and the sheriff responded when the two women came back to the church on another occasion.

  14. I don’t find it unusual that people who don’t believe in the Real Presence would come to daily Mass. Indifference is not the only response of the unbelieving.

  15. Unless the substance found in the parking lot was determined by the priest to be a partially consumed Host, I think the priest acted too hastily and rashly.

    1. Chewing gum is gummy; the Host is not. Did the priest simply act on information he received, or did it attempt to verify it?

    2. Was there really no way to contact the woman and her daughter? Did no one in the church know them, to contact them?

    3. If the priest had taken out a restraining order against the woman, that meant he knew her name, and the police knew her name, correct? So why was she not contacted by the police to let her know of the restraining order? Why were the woman and her daughter so out of the loop?

    4. Unless he was certain of the offense, I think he should have given them Communion when they returned. I think he didn’t because of two factors: 1) he believed the offense to have been committed, and 2) he believed they were aware of the restraining order.

    As for those who comment about the plausibility of it being gum: people do sometimes chew gum during Mass, and take it out for receiving Communion; or, they could start to chew the gum after receiving Communion, before Mass has ended. It is not unlikely that a piece of gum could be ready for disposal by the time you get to your car.

    Whether spitting out gum in a church parking lot is appropriate behavior (for a 19-year-old with her mother!) is another matter.

  16. cmm says:

    What a coincidence. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at Sunday Mass with my 19-year-old. She seemed increasingly uncomfortable during Mass, complaining that she didn’t feel good. And, as we were leaving after Mass, in the church parking lot she suddenly bent down and threw up! Through the grate and down the sewer system went the entire content of her stomach, which of course must have included the Host… at that point there was nothing that could be done about it.

    Now I understand why people used to have to fast for three hours before Mass. This is the first time that that rule has made sense to me.

  17. chironomo says:

    I know this is nothing new, certainly not to Fr. Z, but at the parish where I previously served, there was a woman who constantly caused problems at Mass. She was likely not entirely stable, and there was an incident where she accused the Parochial Vicar of raping her in the church bathroom. The church filed a restraining order (or whatever the legal term is… I’m not a lawyer) to keep her off the property.

    Of course, this was not known to everyone in the church, so when she showed up at Mass one Sunday, the police were called and she was taken out of Church screaming “Just because I’m divorced I’m not allowed here anymore! Is that how it is now…”.

    Many of the parishioners were appalled, but it wasn’t really possible to explain what was going on.

    Things are not always as they seem in these issues.

  18. isnowhere says:

    Who said that these folks were daily Mass attendees? “Previous” could have meant a prior Sunday Mass. That said… my parish has a politician who is pro-abortion, pro-gay-union stance… and he comes to daily Mass…. and no he is not denied the Eucharist.

  19. Glen M says:

    “However, let all remember that the time-honored tradition is to receive the host on the tongue. The celebrant priest, if there is a present danger of sacrilege, should not give the faithful communion in the hand, and he should make them aware of the reason for way of proceeding.”

    Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

  20. TJerome says:

    Best reason I know to re-instate the time honored practice of reception of Holy Communion on the tongue. To paraphrase a cynical politician, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

  21. Sid says:

    Train ushers! — a most necessary group of people!

    Ushers should have cell phones (with the silencer on). The pastor should tell to ushers just who has been issued a no-trespass order. Ushers, when they see the person to whom a no-trespass order has been communicated step onto the property, are to call the police. If the person is already in church, then the ushers not only tell the person to leave, but also call the police. If the person hasn’t been issued a no-trespass order and behaves in church in manner obliging him to leave, the usher or the pastor should tell the person to leave; if the person doesn’t leave, the ushers call the police.

    Let the police alone use force to remove someone unless the person in question is assaulting others physically. (And that means ushers should know a state’s law about use of force. And another reason ushers should be men.) If the police arrive and tell the person to leave, and the person doesn’t leave, this become “disobeying the lawful order of a police officer”. If the police must physically remove the person and are resisted by the person, this is the count of “resisting a police officer”. If I were the prosecutor, I’d throw in also the count of “disorderly conduct”. In my state, it is also a misdemeanor to disrupt a church service.

    I have been told that in my state the police on Sunday mornings arrive quickly.

    Pastors should insist on reverent behavior if not silence in the presence of the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Pastors need to have a plan for trespass and disruption, and they need to tell that plan to staff, visiting priests, and ushers. I’ve been told that enemies of the Church, or of God, will curse the Host when it is exposed. Ushers should ask those in the row before the one cursing to move; then the ushers should block the view of the host and order the person to leave. Also a civil suit, with punitive damages, likely can be undertaken against someone who disrupts church as a violation of the 1st Amendment rights of others to “free exercise”.

    For the protection of The Faith and the safety of parishioners, and at the pastor’s discretion, the trespasser or violator should not be allowed back on the property until that person demonstrates and verifies to the pastor that this person has taken concrete steps to improve his behavior; and the pastor is the judge of this. To say “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. A second violation at the church or at another church requires permanent no-trespass. The chancery should be told the violator’s name, and all pastors in the diocese should be so informed.

  22. Bender says:

    **Best reason I know to re-instate the time honored practice of reception of Holy Communion on the tongue.**

    The story states “the woman’s daughter spit out the host.” Receiving on the tongue is no guarantee against desecration or other improper treatment of the Host.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    Another reason why priests should be speaking out against gum chewing in Church is the confusion seen on this blog. I see gum in the mouths of adults and kids at Sunday Mass, as well as daily Mass. Why this custom is allowed to continue without comment, I do not know.

    I assume the priest knows what he is doing and that there was a sacrilege committed, especially as the Diocese is backing him up.

  24. michael-can says:

    ”The story states “the woman’s daughter spit out the host.” Receiving on the tongue is no guarantee against desecration or other improper treatment of the Host.”

    Now this is the perfect point, if one chew gum and open one mouth to received, Ah! you my dear has something in your mouth, but if you receive in your hand, yes, the priest could not see or could never notice anything of such, so one can get away with anything in the hand reception, the next time try chewing gum in EF and try to receive the Holy Eucharist, you will have to be Hudini to hide what ever is in you mouth, please say ahhhhhh!

  25. albinus1 says:

    Ushers should have cell phones (with the silencer on). The pastor should tell to ushers just who has been issued a no-trespass order. Ushers, when they see the person to whom a no-trespass order has been communicated step onto the property, are to call the police.

    This was a Friday morning Mass. I have never been to a weekday Mass where there were ushers.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    Agreed, albinus1. For ushers to be present, you’d probably have to be in a larger city. Daily masses don’t have many people attending in small towns, and the ones that do attend are mostly older women. And many people have to work on weekday mornings.

  27. albinus1 says:

    What really bothers me is sending the deputy to pull the woman over. I mean, if the pastor knew the women well enough to describe their car to the police, surely he had their phone number and could have called them to discuss the matter privately.

    Honestly, I don’t blame them for not sticking around after Mass. I probably wouldn’t have, either.

    I’m also bothered by the apparent presumption of guilt in the matter, without ever discussing it with them, and the fact that they were issued trepass citations, which probably involve paying a civil fine, apparently based solely on what some unidentified person claims to have seen.

    Since the pastor chose to appeal to the civil authorities to levy a civil penalty, there is the matter of civil law guaranteeing the right to confront one’s accuser. If I were these women, I would be strongly inclined to find some way to challenge the citations in court, particularly if there were a way to require the pastor to present his evidence to the court. Again, he was the one who chose to involve the civil authories; as they say on Law & Order, he opened the door.

    If they have to pay a fine, I hope they reduce their parish contribution by the same amount.

    In general, I have a real problem with a parish calling in the cops unless the matter is really serious. (And by serious, I mean secularly serious — e.g., someone in church threatening people with a gun.) It seems to me that having the secular authorities enforce the wishes of a religious authority on religious property relating to a religious matter is one big step on the road to a society where secular authorities tell religious authorities what they can and can’t do on religious property in religious matters.

    The pastor’s concern for the proper respect for the Blessed Sacrament is commendable. His pastoral technique sucks.

  28. JKnott says:

    Great book to read by the Most Reverend Athanasius Schneider called “Dominus Est – It is the Lord!” published by Newman House Press
    I saw him in an interview describing the manner in which Holy Communion was received in the early Church. The Host was placed in the right hand and the communicant made a profound incline to receive without touching the Host with any fingers or other hand, with the tongue I assume. Then the communicant was required to look for fragments before moving on.
    I don’t think the focus should be on questioning the manner or decision of this or any priest to his fidelity and duty to protect the Eucharist in whatever way he thinks appropriate. In this current climate of Eucharistic disbelief and abuse I think the question should be, “when will the Church return to Commuion on the tongue alone?” This must be only one of millions of sad reasons.

  29. amenamen says:

    Really serious.

    Profanation of the Blessed Sacrament is among the “graviora delicta” (most serious crimes), and it merits an automatic (“latae sententia”) excommunication, which can only be lifted by the Holy See. This is really serious. It is also a serious matter for the secular government if a church is unable to protect its most sacred places and things from “vandalism,” and this certainly qualifies as vandalism, to say the least.

    A “trespass warning” is only a warning. It is similar to a restraining order. It is not the same as a citation for trespassing, which would impose a fine. Now they know it is a serious matter, and that they need to take serious steps to reconcile with the Church.

    I think that the priest should make every effort to warn the persons personally before having recourse to the civil law, but at some point, it is definitely advisable or necessary. What would a priest or usher do to stop a person from carrying a host out to the parking lot? What if the person does not want to listen to reason? Would it be legal to attempt to restrain her physically?

    I would not be so sure that the priest knows the phone number, or that he failed to try to contact the family. Perhaps they have an unlisted number. Perhaps they did not return phone calls. Perhaps they continued to avoid meeting the priest, as they did when he invited them to see him after Mass, and they left the Church before Mass was over. Perhaps they always come late and leave early, giving the priest no opportunity to speak to them at all. Perhaps they have acted dismissively or with beligerence. I do not know.

    The diocese has expressed a willingness to speak with the two women. Let us hope they take the opportunity.

  30. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    “She said she decided not to wait around for the end of the service and had left the church parking lot when a deputy pulled her over.”

    The Deputy could have been at the Mass, I have often gone to daily Mass in many different parishes across the country. W have had cops (on and off duty), medical professionals and yes, the “church ladies” too for daily Masses. If there had been trouble before and specific people were suspected, then, of course, a law enforcement type might “just be there” too for his or her own reasons.

    There are people that really do not “see” nor understand and self-proclaim to be good practicing Catholics. I’m thinking that the “mother” in question is my age, and was poorly catechized or poorly formed in her faith, and her daughter even less formed. To her, the host was perhaps stale tasting and she spat it out like a stale cracker. Then again her mother may not even know her daughter did “anything” wrong.

  31. Stephen Matthew says:


    I am trying not to assume any evil or malice on the part of anyone. It is difficult in such situations to hope that all are blameless, but so long as that is possible with a given set of facts I think charity demands at least that hope. I have at times been overly judgemental, presumed malice on the part of others, expected the worst about others, etc. and knowing of this weekness of my own I have tried to maintain at least some reasonable hope for others being blameless even when some accusation is made. I should note that this is particularly challenging since innocence must be assumed on the part of the accused and the accuser, which is tricky to do logically.

    When the evidence is clear enough to make a sound judgement, I will go where the evidence points. When competent authorities make reasonable seeming judgements, I try to deffer to them. In this instance I do not know enough to make a judgement, nor is it clear that any authoritative judgement was made. From what we know a member of the parish reported having seen this young woman spitting out the host in the parking lot and the pastor decided she should not receive again until he was able to discuss the matter with her. It seems these two were upset to the point of departing mass early and were then warned not to trespass. We do not know if the witness was reliable or if there was some explanation or if there may even be more evidence of guilt, so we are not in a position to know for certain what did happen and what should have been done.

    When a reasonable accusation is made it is prudent to take such steps as are needed to prevent it happening again. It would also be prudent to look into the matter including getting the other side. Justice may well require the offender be corrected, or that punitive or preventive measures be taken, once the situation is understood. We don’t fully understand this situation, but the pastor may perhaps.

  32. JMody says:

    Here’s hoping that the truth comes out quickly. It would seem odd that at a “first occasion” the daughter is (a) chewing gum RIGHT after Mass, (b) and right after having received Communion. Were I the pastor or his advisor, I would start a series of sermons on proper reverence for the Real Presence. I can remember being told not to chew the Host so it would not stick to my teeth — so if I pop a stick of gum in my maw right after Communion how many particles of the Host are in the gum? SO even if she did spit out gum, I’d back the priest on this.

  33. TJerome says:

    Bender, you’ve got to be kidding. If you don’t think it isn’t far easier to abuse the Holy Host when receiving in the hand versus on the tongue, I just don’t know what I could say to convince you otherwise.

  34. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    We don’t know the whole story it’s true. But I can’t help feeling more sympathy for the woman and her daughter than the priest. The article indicates that the mother did not know why she was being refused Holy Communion. The priest definitely should have spoken to her beforehand. I don’t understand bringing the police into the matter whatsoever unless she and/or her daughter were making a public disturbance. It seems really wrong and cold for a priest to have a restraining order issued against anyone. Usually anyone who acts out at Mass has mental issues or is going through a really bad time. People like that deserve our mercy and concrete love, not weird expressions and condemnation. It is not unknown for a priest to act like a total dick. I love the Church and support our priests in general, but I can tell you I’ve received some lousy advice in the confessional by quite a few of them. Plus there have been several times when I have observed priests, just like the rest of humanity, assuming the worst of others. We should hope there is more to the story. Otherwise, the priest was totally out of line calling in the police.

  35. aspiringpoet says:

    Maybe someone already asked this, but … unless the two women left the church immediately after receiving Communion, how would the Host still have been in the girl’s mouth for her to spit it out? Even if she didn’t chew for some reason, wouldn’t it have dissolved by then? And if they left immediately, then who would have seen the girl spit it out outside?

    There must be important details about the situation that we aren’t getting.

  36. CJC says:

    Wow, I’m from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Go Fr. John! And the diocesan officials!

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