CNA Newsroom, 01/27/2023 / 3:56 p.m. (CNA).
Wise men were beheaded, animals were scattered, and Mary, Jesus and Joseph went missing from a manger at St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral in Billings, Montana, after vandals destroyed the statues on the night of January 16.
The incident was similar to another that occurred that same night at the Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church on the south side of town. Three statues and some paintings were stolen there, artwork of Our Lady of Guadalupe was damaged and graffiti such as “Mary is the Harlot of Babylon” was written on the walls.
Two other non-Catholic churches were also destroyed that same week. It’s not clear if the crimes are linked, but the pastor of one of the churches, Central Christian Church, said he didn’t think they were linked, KTVQ/Q2 News reported.
Police estimated the value of the stolen items from Our Lady Queen of Peace at approximately $8,300. Damage to the church’s front door and from the graffiti was estimated at $4,000, according to KTVQ/Q2 News.
Father Jose Marquez, parish administrator of Our Lady Queen of Peace, called the perpetrators “mentally and emotionally ill”.
A parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Peace set up a GoFundMe page on Jan. 18 to “help us repair, replace, and purchase a much-needed alarm system for our sacred items.”
“We have concluded that this was a hate crime,” the site said in a Jan. 21 update. “Please help us restore our faith community.”
According to the GoFundMe page, the damage to the church is “so severe that we will not be able to worship until the space is repaired and rededicated by the bishop. All our statues, holy books and holy icons are gone. The painting of Our Lady has been defaced and labeled with vulgarity.”
As of Friday afternoon, nearly $14,000 had been raised.
CNA reached out to Marquez for comment but received no response at the time of publication.
“The next day, after hearing what had happened downstairs in Our Lady Queen of Peace parish, [also called] Little Flower Church, I was starting to think maybe it was some kind of hate crime,” St. Patrick’s pastor Father Leo McDowell told KTVQ News. “Hearing it happened down there just raised one question: was it something we were aiming for or was it something that someone just lost their composure walking by and was angry and made the anger ?
Nine days after McDowell filed a police report, he said he’s still waiting for someone to investigate the case, according to the news outlet.
“I’m a little frustrated. I wonder if they’re taking it seriously,” McDowell said.
Montana Network Television News said it contacted the Billings Police Department about the Jan. 25 incident. The department responded shortly after, dispatching officers to complete the investigation, the network reported. Lt. The department’s Matt Lennick took the blame for the delay in responding to the case, citing an error in filing the paperwork.
“How this case relates to the other church burglaries and vandalism in recent weeks has yet to be determined,” Lennick told MTN News. “Much of the vandalism is of a similar nature so there could be a connection, but each case has also received a lot of social media attention. So there is always the possibility of copycat incidents.”
On Jan. 26, after seeing coverage of the vandalism at St. Patrick’s, a “good Samaritan” found the missing statues of Mary and Joseph in the fire escape of their apartment building and contacted MTN News, the outlet reported.
“Hello! I have some good news; I have Mary and Joseph!” the anonymous woman wrote in an email to the channel. Joseph’s head was decapitated, but the woman said she tried to glue it back on. Despite her McDowell said the statues will most likely all need to be replaced.
He also expressed hope that the still-missing statue of the baby Jesus will be found.
“I hope someone who hears the story tonight will stumble upon it,” he told MTN News on Jan. 26.
“We don’t have widespread cameras [on the church property right now]but that could change soon,” he added.
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