Religion stoush as questions are raised over communion wine hygiene

AN unholy headache is developing for major churches, with questions raised over whether sacramental wine passes hygiene standards.

Former Warrnambool mayor Frank McCarthy, a devout Catholic, is calling for the time-honoured tradition of drinking from a shared goblet during services to be scrapped.

Mr McCarthy said wholesale consumption of wine from the same chalice would not be allowed in any pub or restaurant and queried why churches were given an exemption.

The former businessman said the risk of spreading disease was heightened with a shared cup. “The rules and regulations surrounding beverages are pretty clear and no pub or soft drink seller would willingly allow the use of glasses for people to repeatedly drink out of,” Mr McCarthy said yesterday.

“Imagine if a publican said to four customers ‘I’m only going to pour one beer, so you’ll all have to sip from the one glass’.

“It just wouldn’t happen.”

He has raised his concerns with church officials in Warrnambool.

National Council of Priests of Australia chairman Eugene McKinnon said it was not compulsory for Catholic parishioners to drink consecrated wine.

“There’s sufficient alcohol in the wine, along with the metal chalice, to make the possibility of the transference of disease almost negligible,” Father McKinnon, formerly of Warrnambool, said.

“Jesus said ‘take the cup and drink from it’. 

“If anyone has a better formula than the man who created Christianity, well, good luck to them.”

Mr McCarthy suggested the addition of wine during the preparation of sacramental wafers could be an option. 

He said it would make symbolic sense to combine the “body and blood of Christ”.

“A body without blood is a dead body,” Mr McCarthy said. “During the wafer production process, a quantity of wine could be added early on in the process, the same time as the water. 

“Then you’d solve the hygiene problem as well as saving money on purchasing sacramental wine.

“It’s about time the Catholic Church worked this one out, because the process at the moment is pretty flawed.”

The Ballarat Catholic diocese was contacted for comment but Bishop Paul Bird and vicar-general Justin Driscoll were unavailable.

Both the Catholic and Anglican churches use wine on a regular basis as part of their services. 

Several other Protestant denominations, including the Uniting Church, use grape juice or cordial in separate cups as part of similar Eucharist ceremonies.

A Department of Health spokesman said because the wine wasn’t sold, it wasn’t covered under state legislation.

“People should exercise commonsense when it comes it hygiene,” the spokesman said.

 “This isn’t covered under food handling legislation because it’s consuming beverages in a non-commercial capacity.” 

A spokeswoman for Food Standards Australia said there was no particular code stipulation at a national level covering the religious consumption of wine or any other beverage.

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