A Roman Catholic church in Brooklyn, New York, was desecrated Friday, with its most valuable and sacred possession stolen.
St. Augustine Catholic Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is investigating the theft and vandalism of its tabernacle – an antique, 18-karat gold piece of artwork made in the 19th century used to house the Eucharist.
The tabernacle is kept inside a thick metal casing when not supervised, which the burglars cut through. The tabernacle itself is estimated to be worth approximately $2 million.
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is announcing the New York City Police Department is investigating a brazen crime of disrespect and hate, which desecrated the most Holy Eucharist and the altar at St. Augustine Catholic Church, located at 116 6th Avenue in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn,” the Diocese of Brooklyn said in a statement.
“The burglar cut through a metal protective casing and made off with the Tabernacle, which dates back to when the church was built in the late 1800s,” the diocese explained. “This holy sacramental receptacle is irreplaceable due to its historical and artistic value.”
The theft does not appear to be solely motivated by material gain, as the culprits also decapitated two statues of angels on either side of the altar, according to local outlet Fox 5.
The vandals seemingly did not steal the Eucharist, but appear to have removed it and strewn the sacrament haphazardly about the altar. Theft of the Eucharist is a serious concern for Catholic churches – the sacrament has historically been a target for theft and subsequent desecration by anti-Catholic or anti-Christian groups.
“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,” Father Frank Tumino, pastor of St. Augustine, 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,” he added.
The theft and vandalism are suspected to have happened on Friday, but were only discovered by Tumino the day after.
The sacristy – a room behind the altar where clergy prepare to perform mass – was also raided, with a safe cut open. Nothing was inside.
Anyone who may have information that can help the investigation or identify those responsible is asked to call the New York Police Department at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).