Any GCSE history student knows the sale of relics helped trigger the Reformation back in the 16th century, so perhaps Catholics should be a little worried at the news that pieces of a robe worn by departed Pope John Paul II are being sold to believers.
The cassock has reportedly been cut into 100,000 pieces, and followers can apply to buy a slice by email, fax or post. The sale is being run by the Vicariate of Rome, which is promoting sainthood for the late Pope. Apparently demand is so high that priority is being given to the seriously ill, or to those praying for the sick.
The Vatican is said to be uneasy at the renewed sale of relics, a practice which was banned under Catholic canon law in wake of the Reformation. Bishop Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's top judicial body, told one Catholic newspaper: "No one can say whether venerating relics aids prayer, it depends on the faith of the believer."
This story continues a trend we've been noticing recently, namely the classification of things which were never real in the first place as "fake". In the September/October issue we've got "fake witches" and "fake astrologers", and now we've got it in reference to relics. Convinced the robe fragments are real, the Polish priest in charge of John Paul's sainthood campaign nevertheless warned believers of the dangers of websites offering "false relics". The Times reports that last year a souvenir shop near the Vatican withdrew some specks of cloth supposedly belonging to John Paul from sale, admitting they were "third-class relics".
In the March/April issue of New Humanist Toby Saul reported on the fast-track beatification process being given to John Paul II, and looked at the criteria candidates need to fulfill. You need a miracle, apparently.