'We prayed for those who committed this crime' St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Northampton ransacked, crime tests parish's faith

Last modified: Monday, September 08, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — When the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish church was broken into and ransacked in early July, the parish priest and the congregation saw it as an opportunity to test their faith and the limits of their forgiveness.

“Forgiveness and accountability can go hand in hand,” the Rev. John Connors said Friday. “We prayed that weekend for those who committed this crime.”

Police found a forced entry through the back door of the church at 99 King St. about 4:45 a.m. July 1.

Once inside, someone apparently took a crowbar and pried open cabinets, ripped doors from their hinges, opened desk drawers, and tossed items found inside — including religious chalices — onto the ground.

News of the damage was announced to the parish during a Mass. “You could hear a gasp at the Mass I was at,” said Rose-Marie Morin, of Northampton, a lifelong member of the church. “How could anybody be so vicious?” she asked. “Something like this is not only heartbreaking, it hurts in the pocketbook.”

Connors said the reactions of parishioners ranged from “angry and upset,” to resignation and an understanding that things like this happen sometimes.

Damage estimates are still not complete, but Connors and Northampton Police put the tally between $20,000 and $30,000. Police said this week that they continue to investigate the incident.

The damage will be covered by insurance and it does not appear anything was stolen, said Connors , who added that he had not seen anything like this in the four years he has been at the church.

He said whoever broke in appeared to be searching for cash, which the parish does not keep inside the building.

Connors said a well-attended funeral was held at the church the day before the break. He speculated that as a result someone may have assumed there was a large amount of cash in the church from a collection.

Much of the damage was contained to the church’s sacristy where vestments and other religious items are kept.

The church’s tabernacle was also damaged, and Connors said some of the chalices and similar items had to be sent out for repair.

Some of the damaged items are 30 years old, while others are fairly recent, Connors said.

A small safe was thrown through one of the church windows, Connors said, but it remained unopened and there were no valuables inside to steal.

“I would say it was very erratic,” Connors said. “There was scattered damage, a rush to try to pry things out.”

Connors said he does not believe the break-in and damage were directed at the church in particular or Catholics in general, but a “desperate attempt to take money.”

“If it was something against the church, there would have been more damage in the main body of the church,” he said.

While Connors and the parish are willing to forgive whoever is responsible, they also hope that someone will be held accountable and dealt with accordingly.

Connors used the example of the late Pope John Paul II who forgave his attempted assassin Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981, but did not petition the Italian government to pardon him until 2000.

Because the damage was considered a desecration, Connors said the church itself had to be reconsecrated by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell before regular services could resume.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.