This Just In: Holy Water Can Kill!

shutterstock_53828143 - 2In a piece that showed blissful, if not invincible, ignorance of Catholic practices in the United States and around the world, Good Morning America reported Saturday that drinking holy water from containers or water from miraculous springs can kill.

“We need to warn people against drinking from these sources,” Dr. Alexander Kirschner of the Medical University of Vienna, told ABC News.

Kirschner is the author of “Holy Springs and Holy Water: Underestimated Sources of Illness?” a report in the Journal of Water and Health, which makes the odd claim that holy water is “used extensively for personal drinking water.”

The report finds that common bacteria that cause illness are often found in holy water, as are nitrates (chemicals used in fertilizers and commonly found in runoff from farms). ABC News says that “if ingested, water containing nitrates over the maximum contaminant level could cause serious illness, especially in infants younger than six  months, which could lead to death if untreated, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.”

ABC’s reporter, Liz Fields, did not say why she thought infants might be drinking holy water in the first place, much less why it might contain nitrates over the maximum contaminant level.

The report also found, unsurprisingly, that holy water stoups in hospitals have more bacteria than those in churches, and is thus more unsafe to drink. “This may represent a problem that has hitherto been underestimated, especially in hospitals, since there a lot of people with weakened immune systems there,” Kirschner told ABC.

Although Kirschner’s report suggested that sprinkling people with holy water or touching holy water to one’s lips might lead to an increase in infections, and that holy springs should be tested to see if they meet drinking water standards, it did not warn of the danger of death (even for infants). That was a health tip from ABC.

For the record: Holy water is water that has been blessed by a priest. The blessing includes adding salt, but neither the blessing nor the salt purify the water chemically. Water from holy or miraculous springs is not itself holy, and is no different from water from any other springs in terms of bacterial or mineral content.


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Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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