Thursday, July 28, 2016

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Altar desecrated at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Charlotte


CHARLOTTE — Someone broke into St. Thomas Aquinas Church at 1400 Suther Road Friday evening or Saturday morning, desecrating the altar and causing about $2,600 in damage. No evidence of ritualistic or occult activity was apparent and nothing was stolen from the University City-area church.

According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police report, the person or persons broke a stained glass window on the right side of the church, not visible to the street, sometime after 1:30 a.m. and before 9 a.m. Saturday. They probably cut themselves on the broken glass, and as they walked into the altar area some blood dripped onto the altar cloth, said David Hains, diocesan director of communication.

Hains said police surmised the person knocked over the crucifix that sat upon the altar, and when it fell it broke the baby Jesus statue in the church's Nativity display. At some point during their break-in, the burglar or burglars triggered the church's alarm, and they left moments later through the narthex.

Parish staff thought the alarm was triggered accidentally and did not discover the break-in until Saturday morning, Hains said. They immediately called police and Bishop Peter Jugis.

According to Hains and the church's pastor, Father Patrick Winslow, there appeared to be no signs of satanic activity, but the altar area was desecrated in a "lewd" manner.

Bishop Jugis came to the church Saturday morning and blessed the church inside and out, as required by canon law when an altar is desecrated or profaned. Then he celebrated a Mass with Father Winslow, Father Matthew Kauth (priest in residence) and a few parishioners who happened to be present.

The peaceful blessing ceremony was "intended to cleanse any defilement in the church," Hains said. The ceremony took about two hours.

Father Winslow and Father Kauth then notified parishioners of the break-in during the regular Sunday Masses.

In a statement Monday, Father Winslow said, "Regarding the incident itself, although the particular intentions of those responsible may never be known, the effect of violating our sanctuary and altar remains the same. Consistent with our Catholic tradition, liturgical celebrations could not resume until Bishop Jugis blessed the church, sanctuary and altar."

He noted, "The ceremony conducted by the bishop on Saturday afternoon was peaceful and commanding. When we began I felt there was an air of darkness in our church. After the rites were concluded, the church was once again bathed in the light of truth. The sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist were celebrated that evening as scheduled."

The broken window has been boarded up and is expected to be repaired later today or tomorrow, Hains said. The damage was estimated at $2,500 for the window, and about $100 for the broken statue (which has since been repaired). There was no other damage reported.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police processed the crime scene and took the altar cloth, containing the drops of blood, as evidence. No arrest has been made, and the police investigation continues.

Father Winslow thanked "the many people offering prayers and support for our parish family after the events of this past weekend," adding, "We are grateful also to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for their prompt and thorough response."

"Throughout the Christmas season we Catholics reflected upon how the light of God overcame the darkness of our world," he said. "On Saturday the same light pushed back the darkness yet again. We feel quite protected and grateful."

— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor