HELENA – A Great Falls lawmaker is drafting a bill to create a legal way for sacramental wine to be distributed in Montana.
The bill by Democratic Sen. Mitch Tropila would allow state liquor stores to purchase sacramental wine — some of which has an alcohol content up to 18 percent — then sell it to church supply businesses, which could then sell it to churches.
The issue came to light when Roy and Mary Houseman, who own Montana Church Supply in Great Falls, did not receive sacramental wine they ordered last fall. Mary Houseman said the winemaker was told it didn’t have a license to distribute wine in Montana and Montana Church Supply didn’t have a license to sell it.
“We couldn’t get our Christmas wine in,” she said. “If they don’t resolve this issue, we’re not going to be able to get the wine in for Lent and Easter.”
She said her customers have turned to other suppliers and she is losing business.
Montana Church Supply has been in business since 1979 and has sold wine for two decades without being licensed.
When Houseman contacted the Montana Department of Revenue, the agency’s director, Dan Bucks, was surprised to learn there wasn’t a provision in state law dealing with the sale of sacramental wine.
“It’s essentially a glitch in the law that we hope to fix,” Bucks said. “We need to make sure that the distribution of these products falls within the law without disrupting local businesses that have served the churches in the past.”
At Our Lady of Lourdes, a Roman Catholic church in Great Falls, the Rev. Lou Krauth turned to grocery stores when he could no longer purchase wine from Montana Church Supply.
“I go to Wal-Mart and buy the wine there and hope it’s wine and not some sugar water,” Krauth said. “I do that because I have no choice.”
Any wine can be used for communion, but he prefers to use approved wine, which doesn’t have any sulfur, sugar or water added.
Krauth said this is the first time in his 30 years in the Great Falls-Billings Diocese that he’s had problems obtaining altar wine.
Bucks said he is confident the sacramental wine bill will pass the Legislature.
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