In a crime Catholic Church officials in Brooklyn are calling brazen, hateful and disrespectful, the New York City Police Department is investigating after thieves decapitated angel statues and ripped a centuries-old solid gold tabernacle worth $2 million from the altar of a local church.
In a statement Friday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced the theft at St. Augustine Catholic Church, located at 116 6th Ave. in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.
“This is devastating, as the Tabernacle is the central focus of our church outside of worship, holding the Body of Christ, the Eucharist, which is delivered to the sick and homebound,” the church’s priest, Father Frank Tumino, said in a statement. “To know that a burglar entered the most sacred space of our beautiful Church and took great pains to cut into a security system is a heinous act of disrespect.”
Diocese officials said that the tabernacle, which dates back to when the church was built in the late 1800s, “is irreplaceable due to its historical and artistic value.”
John Quaglione, the diocese’s deputy press secretary, told The Christian Post Tuesday that no motive has yet been established for the robbery.
The parish has been buoyed by an outpouring of support from across the country.
“The faithful of the Church are shocked and greatly upset by what has happened, and are turning to prayer. There is a sense of sorrow among the people of St. Augustine,” Quaglione wrote in an email.
“People throughout the United States have been calling and contacting the parish and also expressing their prayerful intentions for the return of the Tabernacle. There continues to be a sense of hope that as the story has received so much attention, something as distinctive as this Tabernacle may possibly be returned.”
Police suspect the theft of the 18-karat gold tabernacle occurred sometime between 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Saturday, according to CNN. The thieves likely used power tools to “forcefully cut open” the altar to get to the tabernacle, according to the New York City Police Department.
Thieves decapitated angels flanking the tabernacle and scattered the Holy Eucharist at the altar.
Father Tumino, who discovered the theft, detailed in his sermon Sunday how the robbery made him think about quitting his assignment at the church momentarily.
“I noticed the doors of St. Augustine were slightly ajar, and if you listen to the news this morning, you’ll know that someone very organized and quite violently took the tabernacle from St. Augustine. They cut the doors open,” he said.
“As I was cleaning after the police left, Eucharist was strewn all over the altar. And as I was cleaning, I felt so abandoned. I was thinking to myself, why am I assigned here? This is not a good assignment. This is nothing but trouble after trouble after trouble.”
“I was thinking to myself, you know how easy it would be to just say ‘it’s time to go,'” he said, waving goodbye. “As I was cleaning, I started getting into this place where I said, ‘look at this.’ No one from the diocese even called me, and then I got into an even deeper depth. I said, ‘Look at this. You do all the right things and you don’t get any type of reaction.'”
Tumino said he rejected the despair that crept upon him once he checked his messages and found that everyone he had called in “administration” about the robbery had called him back from different parts of the world to assure him that “things would be OK.”
He remembered one profound conversation with a friend who said, “you are so lucky that you’re safe.”
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘I’ve known you for so many years, and I know that when you walk past your church and you see lights on, you go in,'” Tumino recalled. “And how lucky you are and how lucky the many people that go in and out of St. Augustine Church … that no one was there and they caught them in the act.”
Tumino said he is grateful for that perspective.
The priests said some might wonder why the church kept such an expensive tabernacle.
“People might tell us, ‘Why does the church have something that expensive? That should be sold,'” he said.
“That’s a gift to us as part of our patrimony of those who have gone before us,” he continued. “Those, who like us, waited for the return of Jesus.”