Anger is rising in western New York, as the embattled Catholics of Buffalo learned that just days ago, their bishops may have denied them an avenue of grace by refusing to investigate a possible eucharistic miracle.
On Friday, Church Militant spoke with one disaffected Catholic of the diocese, Mary Ellen Sanfilippo, about extraordinary events that began unfolding in late November at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Springbrook, New York.
Sanfilippo said that a consecrated host was accidentally dropped on the floor of the church during Mass. Retrieving the host, a deacon submerged it in an ablution cup and placed it inside the tabernacle for later disposal. On November 30, the host, still inside the water-filled receptacle, was discovered exuding a deep red substance that appeared to be blood.
Once photographs of the host were taken, Fr. Karl Loeb, pastor at the parish, immediately notified Bp. Richard Malone and his auxiliary, Bp. Edward Grosz, about the incident. Instead of ordering an investigation into the phenomenon — as is proper — the two bishops claimed the host had already dissolved and that therefore "Christ was no longer present."
They ordered Fr. Loeb to dispose of the host, and though extremely reluctant to do so, the priest, bound by his oath of obedience, complied.
Across the United States, diocese after diocese is staggering under the weight of moral corruption and the legacy of sex abuse cover-up. But Buffalo, careening from scandal to scandal, has distinguished itself as an especially troubled case. Sanfilippo belongs to a group of concerned Catholics who meet regularly to pray and discuss how to combat the crisis engulfing their diocese. She explained that the collective, numbering roughly 100 faithful from various parishes, is trying to fight the rot in Buffalo by "making our voices heard." Among the group's members are parishioners from St. Vincent de Paul, and it was from them that she learned what Malone and Grosz had done.
"They lost no time whatsoever in throwing the host away," she said. "This was yet another case of abuse — eucharistic abuse."
Sanfilippo acknowledged that the red material seeping from the consecrated host may have been a purely natural substance. But she is dismayed that the Catholics of Buffalo were denied the opportunity to determine its origin by order of their bishops.
"I am absolutely outraged by what has happened in our diocese," she said. "The Eucharist is the center of the Catholic belief system, something of great importance that you don't throw away."
Sanfilippo was so upset, in fact, that she contacted the chancery for answers.
"Bishop Malone doesn't talk to anyone," she said. "He hides from people."
But Sanfilippo has known Grosz for two decades, so she contacted him to demand why he had refused to preserve the sacred host for investigation.
Grosz attributed the final decision to Malone. Grosz told Sanfilippo he was "very reluctant" to give his personal opinion on the possibility of a miracle, and said he was compelled to back Malone's decision.
Sanfilippo pressed him as to why he wouldn't push for an inquiry, why he wouldn't even entertain the possibility that a miracle may have occurred.
"Why would you take that chance?" she asked.
"Christ was no longer present," Grosz claimed, saying the host had already dissolved. Photos show, however, that the sacred host had not dissolved.
Grosz refused to even look at the photographs.
Sanfilippo hopes other Catholics will contact the Buffalo chancery, as she did, to call Malone and Grosz to account for depriving their flock of what may have been a tremendous, sorely needed grace. In the meantime, she and others in her group are working to spread word of the events of the past two weeks.
"All Catholics in the diocese need to know this happened," she said.
As news of the bishops' order spreads, more and more diocesan faithful are expressing dismay.
On Thursday's edition of The World Over, EWTN's Raymond Arroyo interviewed two Buffalo Catholics about the incident: Lisa Benzer, director of religious education at St. Vincent de Paul; and former parishioner Mike Denz, director of catechesis and evangelization at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Shrine in Bowmansville, New York.
Benzer saw the scarlet-stained host up close before the bishops ordered it to be destroyed, and recounted its profound effect on her.
"I kneeled [sic] down to the ground and I was in awe," she recalled. "It was absolutely fantastic to me. It was so simple but so majestic at the same time."
Denz testified to the spiritual impact of the phenomenon. "It has had an effect on people," he said, noting that "there are several people from St. Vincent's that are affected just by seeing the pictures."
"And all the people that I've talked to in person and on social media were affected ... and were very disappointed that [the host] was disposed of instead of looked into," he added.
"A bishop is responsible for investigating things like this in his diocese ... that's what bishops normally do," he noted. "They will look into anything that looks like it might be a credible miracle. So, it was surprising to see that they didn't even want to see it."
Denz called the premature disposal of the host "a missed opportunity."
"Something like this obviously is done by Christ to draw people closer to Him, to help to solidify peoples' faith," he explained. "And if this indeed was a eucharistic miracle, this is a missed opportunity, and I have no idea why it wasn't investigated."
Sanfilippo accused Malone and Grosz of lacking "spiritual faith" for refusing even to entertain the possibility of a miracle. If an investigation had determined that the phenomenon were of supernatural origin, Sanfilippo argued that an affirmation of the Real Presence amid scandal and loss of faith in Buffalo be an indictment against the bishops themselves.
Since the eighth century, the Church has recognized more than 130 eucharistic miracles — the most recent occurring in Poland in 2013. According to Dr. Pawel Skibinski, director of the John Paul II Museum in Warsaw, most cases manifested when a consecrated host was stolen, discarded or abandoned and forgotten — or during periods when doubts about the Real Presence were on the rise.
Faithful observers are suggesting it seems apt, therefore, that a eucharistic miracle may have occurred in one of the most troubled dioceses in the country. As a swelling stream of Catholics leave the Church in Buffalo, those that remain see the hand of God in the phenomenon at St. Vincent de Paul.
Benzer told EWTN's Arroyo:
I do believe that Jesus had a message for all of us. And that message is of hope, of love. And I believe that He presented Himself in a way that was tangible for all people, so that people would come to Him. And I believe He was saying on the Feast of St. Andrew ... "Come and see. Come and see what I have in store for all of My people." In a time now where people are disgruntled with the Catholic faith, there's many people who have left the Church. However, Jesus is saying, "I am your leader. I am your master. Come to Me and I will give you rest."
Sanfilippo agreed. "Many people are losing faith," she told Church Militant. "By revealing the Real Presence — the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ — God is bringing attention to His Presence, here."
"He is present, not only in the Eucharist, but He is with us every day," she added. "And He is with us still, even now, here in Buffalo."