A: The answer to this question is a little more nuanced than at first glance. To understand the issue clearly, a few foundational principles should be considered.
First, it is clear that Catholic tradition holds simony to be a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines simony as “the buying or selling of spiritual things” (CCC, 2121). This is forbidden and is even a canonical crime if it involves a sacrament (Code of Canon Law (CIC), can. 1380). However, it is important to note that there is a distinction between the object and the spiritual blessing or grace attached to it. Technically, it is not the buying or selling of the material object (obiecta) per se that is simony but rather the attempted buying or selling of the spiritual blessing, grace, favor, etc. (the spiritual res) that is the sin. The Latin term used in the Catechism at number 2121 when describing simony is “rerum” and not “obiecta.”
Second, since it is the blessing or grace that cannot be bought or sold, if anything blessed is sold or is severely damaged, it is considered to have lost its blessing. Thus, when a home or a car is blessed, for example, once it is sold, it loses its blessing. In this light, it is not entirely accurate to say that the Church completely prohibits the selling of any blessed things, otherwise no Catholic with a blessed home could ever sell his or her house. However, certain types of blessed things have different restrictions to consider when it comes to buying and selling.
Third, there is a distinction when it comes to things that have a blessing, namely: 1) blessed objects; 2) “sacred objects,” and 3) blessed sacramentals.
“Blessed objects” are merely objects that are not religious or sacramental—such as cars, houses, etc.—that are blessed. These objects can be bought and sold but, as mentioned above, they lose their blessing when that happens.
“Sacred objects,” strictly speaking as used in canon 1171 of the Code of Canon Law, is a category of designated objects that are consecrated or blessed in a way that sets them apart for sacred worship (liturgy), such as a church building, altars, church bells, holy oils, etc. According to canon 1171, once consecrated or blessed, these cannot be handed over for secular or inappropriate use, including buying or selling, even if owned privately. This is why before a consecrated church building can be sold, the competent ecclesiastical authority must follow a series of steps required by canon law and issue a decree that, in a sense, “de-consecrates” the building or, in the technical term, “regulates it to profane but not sordid use” (cf. can. 1222). This decree of regulation has as one of its effects the loss of the consecration or blessing of the building. Only then can the canonical steps for the alienation of the property be done (see, e.g., can.1290ff).
“Blessed sacramentals” are religious objects that are blessed, such as rosaries, medals, crucifixes, etc. These are not technically “sacred objects” in the sense of being set apart for “divine worship” (liturgy) but are meant for prayer, piety, or private devotions. In the July 12, 1847, Decree of the then-Sacred Congregation of Indulgences & Sacred Relics, the Congregation explicitly prohibited the selling of rosaries and crucifixes. It added that, if sold, these lose the blessings and indulgences attached to them. Similarly, the Raccolta (1910) repeats this prohibition stating “they cannot be sold or exchanged” (Raccolta, #38). Interestingly, this prohibition is not repeated in the current Manual on Indulgences, which only states that the indulgence attached to an article of devotion ceases if it is destroyed or sold (Manual on Indulgences, N16 §2). This has raised questions as to whether the prohibition is still in force.
Regardless of whether the prohibition against selling blessed sacramental objects is in force, it is clear that their sale is to be avoided. This is because if the blessed sacramental is presented in some way as more unique or valuable because it carries a blessing or a blessing from a certain person (e.g., “This rosary was blessed by the Pope!”), it would technically fall under simony since the spiritual reality is being advertised as making it more worthy to be paid for. In addition, even if it is sold or auctioned, it loses its blessing upon the sale and the person receives an unblessed object.
Inevitably, the sale of blessed sacramentals easily causes scandal. In all prudence, the sale should be of a non-blessed religious object and should be blessed only after the sale.
All of the above applies to auctioning as well, since auctioning is considered equivalent to buying and selling in that there is an offer, an acceptance, and a transaction done based on it.
—Answered by Benedict Nguyen
Chancellor, Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX