No charges for false prophet

Claim of miracles was fraud, not theft

Keene Sentinel, January 27, 2000
By Brian Rourke

KEENE - Authorities say a man who claimed that thousands of blood-stained communion wafers appeared miraculously in his home was a fraud - but that he apparently committed no crimes.

Ronald O'Brien has gained thousands of followers and contributors since September 1998, when he first began claiming that miracles were occurring in his Victoria Street home.

O'Brien has held numerous tours and gatherings at his home. He claims his religious statues and paintings weep oily tears and thousands of communion wafers, stained with the blood of Christ, have appeared.

O'Brien's year-old organization, Friends of the Eucharist, reportedly has received more than $100,000 in donations, prompting authorities to investigate whether O'Brien committed the crime of theft by deception.

On Monday, the state police laboratory concluded in its report that the red "blood" stains actually were dye. And The Keene Sentinel has reported that O'Brien ordered thousands of communion wafers from two mail-order companies. Despite that, Keene Police Sgt. Frederick Parsells said there is no evidence that a crime was committed.

"People contributed money based on faith," Parsells said. "If I can't prove that O'Brien did not believe that what he was presenting was the body and blood of Christ, I'm without a case."

For a while last summer, O'Brien was charging $3,333 apiece for the wafers (Christ died at age 33). One Florida man, a stockbroker, bought one, O'Brien told The Sentinel last summer.

Under the law for theft by deception, "we have to be able to prove pretty much what is in (O'Brien's) mind," Parsells said. "I need someone who can testify that (O'Brien) has said to them that he did not believe this. "We need to know what is inside his mind and that's a very difficult thing to do. We can get purchase orders of hosts and his previous convictions, but the court tells us that does not have bearing on if he is engaging in similar behavior now."

Authorities have revealed that O'Brien spent 13 months in federal prison for a credit card scam in the early 1990s.

O'Brien and his family moved to Kiltimagh, Ireland, in October. When they first left, he said he would return to Keene every few weeks. But now he says they will stay in Ireland.

In an e-mail to The Sentinel, O'Brien admitted he bought wafers by mail, but said he bought those as a charitable gesture to give to poor churches. "We bought hosts and of course it's implied that's where the miraculous hosts came from," O'Brien wrote.

But one of O'Brien's former followers doesn't buy that. "If you are receiving thousands of hosts from heaven, why would you have to buy them?" said Thomas Rohde of Necedah, Wis. , a bishop in the Old Roman Catholic Church.

O'Brien said he sent packets containing hosts, food and even money to priests of churches in poor countries. He also said he made several similar delivers to churches in the Keene area.

"We were also instructed by the Father to leave these packets of sealed hosts ... and to deliver them to the rectories of churches in the towns around Keene," he wrote.

But priests in the area said that never happened. Not one church in the region reported receiving anonymous hosts last year, or any year.

"I've never in my life heard of people donating hosts to a church," said the Rev. Pierre Baker, pastor of St. Bernard's Church in Keene. "But then, there are a lot of things I haven't heard of before Mr. O'Brien."


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