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Scalping Papal Mass Tickets Is a Sin, Archdiocese Warns

Ticket for the Papal Mass at Nationals Park in Washington / Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson
The Archdiocese of Washington says that besides being illegal, scalping tickets for the Papal Mass is a sin. (Newsline photo by Tamra Tomlinson)

Special Report Main Page:

The Pope in Washington

By Ben Meyerson
Capital News Service
Friday, April 11, 2008

WASHINGTON - A papal visit to the United States is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Scott Williams of Crofton wants to use Pope Benedict XVI's Mass at Nationals Park Thursday to propose to his girlfriend.

There's just one problem -- he can't get his hands on tickets, and finding a pair is, literally, sinful.

"You can't buy the tickets, can't sell the tickets, basically they're impossible to get," he said. "I thought maybe somebody has a heart out there, maybe this is a little more important."

Across Maryland and the world, people are going to great lengths to get tickets to see the pope's Mass on his first visit to the United States -- even though the Archdiocese of Washington said scalping the passes is not only illegal, but a sin.

But Williams is driven to get the tickets. Seeing the pope is "more important than anything" to his girlfriend, who's completing her theology degree at Mount St. Mary's University, he said.

"If there's some way I can do it without breaking rules, I'd love to do it," he said.

Williams said he wouldn't do it to just line the ticket-seller's wallet. He'd rather it be an in-kind exchange.

"I work for Microsoft, I have a skill in IT (information technology), and can fix just about any computer on this planet, so maybe I can offer my services to him (the seller) for a monetary value -- something that I can do that's worth it to them, but not money," Williams said. "If it's $400, I'll clean your house for a month, I'll take your kids out to a baseball game twice a week."

Donald Powell, a retiree living in Laurel, said he was looking for tickets so his mother-in-law -- visiting from the Philippines -- could attend the Mass with his wife. He saw no problem paying for tickets, as long as he knew the money was going to good cause.

"If somebody wants to see him bad enough, and they would pay some money, I don't think it's bad or outrageous," Powell said. "As long as it's going to a charity, I see no problem with that at all."

But Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Archdiocese of Washington, said selling the tickets is against church law.

A Roman Catholic Church Mass is considered a sacrament, she said, and scalping the passes is equivalent to selling a sacrament, which is forbidden.

Passes are also the nontransferable property of the archdiocese. If ticket holders can't use them, they should tell their source for the pass, she said.

There's a designated process for assigning unneeded tickets, she said.

"You need to go talk to your pastor -- your parish only got, you know, 20 tickets, because they're meant for other parishioners, not anyone in the United States," she said.

Tickets were scarce to begin with -- 200,000 people applied for 46,000 passes, Gibbs said. The archdiocese also has a 10,000-name wait list for seats.

If the archdiocese sees a seat or section number on sale, it can cancel that ticket or flag a row for monitoring. Mass attendees must show identification at the park's front gate.

"Every ticket is seat-specific and bar coded," she said "We should be able to go back to the parish that gave out the tickets and know who's supposed to be in that section."

As of Friday evening, there were 28 "tickets wanted" posts in the Washington section of classified ad Web site Craigslist, with only one post offering to sell. The archdiocese had the site remove about 20 posts selling passes, Gibbs said.

However, it seems at least a few people have managed to exchange tickets through the site. The New York Daily News reported that one man on Craigslist was selling a pair for no less than $300.

Carol Frausto of Northwest Washington is one parishioner hoping for a miracle on the Archdiocese's waitlist.

"I just figure that the tickets are free, so I imagine that people would reissue the tickets to the parishes or the archdiocese," she said. "These were basically given to people, and shouldn't be a way to make money."

Regardless, like Powell and Williams, she was looking for tickets through Craigslist, but with little success.

"I haven't had anyone that's called, to be honest, I've really hit more of a dead end to find tickets at this point," said Frausto.

But she still has faith.

Further north, Greg Packer of Huntington, N.Y., is blitzing Craigslist sites from New York to Washington in hopes of getting a ticket. Benedict XVI will visit New York later in the week.

However, there's a key difference between Packer and most people looking to attend -- he's Jewish.

Packer went to see former Pope John Paul II at Giants Stadium in 1995, and said he wants to be a part of history again this time around.

"That was easy compared to this time around," Packer said. "John Paul encouraged the Jewish people to see him."

Packer said he paid $52 to do a background check on himself in an effort to persuade ticket holders he would be a good person to give the ticket to.

"I figured if I did a background check on myself, it would show that whoever's giving me the ticket would know that there wouldn't be a problem with me at all," he said. "I'm very aware that background checks are being done by people that are going to the service, so I put up my own money."

Back in Maryland, Williams is just praying that something goes his way.

"Being able to propose to my potential future wife is more important than anything," he said. "It's not the monetary value, it's more about the principal and the meaning."

Copyright 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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