Court rules Catholic Church is solely responsible for altar wine

Only the Roman Catholic Church is authorized to decide what wine can be labelled sacramental, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on Tuesday. In a lawsuit filed by a wine-producing company against the Church, the court said that the Church has autonomy to decide which wine may be used in Catholic worship.

The Roman Catholic Church has been facing a lawsuit over who is to decide whether particular wine can be considered sacramental or not. The Archbishop’s Cellars, a wine producing company based in Kroměříž, central Moravia, contested the Czech Bishops’ Conference refusal to recognize their wine as sacramental after the Church stopped buying the company’s stock in 2006. The dispute went as far as the Czech Supreme Administrative Court which ruled on Tuesday that only the Catholic Church itself has the right to decide which wine fulfils the conditions of the canonical law and can therefore be used in the Eucharist. Pavel Molek is an assistant judge of the Supreme Administrative Court.

“According to the Czech act on viticulture, if a winegrower wants to use the label sacramental wine, he has to ask the Church for permission. The core of the argument was whether the Czech Bishops’ Conference – which acts here in the name of the Roman Catholic Church – gives this permission within the scope of the Church’s autonomy, as guaranteed by the Charter of the Basic Rights and Freedoms, or whether it acts as a public authority deciding about the rights and duties of others.”

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Church does not act as a public authority in this matter, and therefore its decision regarding the nature of the wine in question cannot be contested before court. The Archbishop’s Cellars claimed that the refusal of the Catholic Church to allow them to label their wine as sacramental hurt their business interests, as the wine labelled as sacramental, besides being used at the Holly Mass, also attracts common consumers for its superior qualities.

But Pavel Molek says the Church has no legal obligation to recognize wine as sacramental, even if does in fact fulfil all the criteria required by the church.

“The fact that the Church uses this wine is in fact part of the very definition of sacramental wine. The label gives the information that this particular wine is good enough even for the Church and the Church freely chooses to use it at the Holly Mass. It may of course give a signal to other customers as well about the quality of the wine. But the absurd argument of the complainant was that he, as a wine producer, is entitled to such permission by the Church for every wine that has objectively fulfilled the criteria set by the Canonical Law.”

Sacramental wine is used by the Roman Catholic Church during the Holly Mass in the Eucharist – the transubstantiation of wine into the blood of Jesus Christ to commemorate the Last Supper. Sacramental wine must be produced from vine grapes and it must be fermented naturally without any chemical additives.