.- By Mike Lang, The Dialog
Pastors at two parishes in Delaware said recent vandalism at their
churches was disappointing but the congregations are eager to move on.
Father Dan McCloskey, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church in
Georgetown, was the main celebrant at a Mass of Reconciliation on Aug.
14 to rededicate the church after the tabernacle was removed and
several items stolen during an early morning burglary Aug. 8.
He said the gravity of the situation first hit him when he saw the
damage and again at the Mass, attended by approximately 100
parishioners. “Some were really emotionally touched by the whole
thing,” said Father McCloskey, who will mark his 10th anniversary
at St. Michael’s this October. “I felt empowered by the
congregation being there because it’s not something you do every
day. You want to say, ‘We’ll go on. It’s not going to
The damage was less severe at St. Polycarp’s in Smyrna but the
feelings were much the same, said the pastor, Father Tom Flowers. St.
Polycarp’s was vandalized sometime after
1 a.m. Aug. 15. The sacristy was ransacked, donation boxes emptied and items taken from the parish kitchen.
Police do not believe the two crimes are related. “Everything
was so disheveled,” Father Flowers said. “Thank God the
tabernacle wasn’t touched, but you feel violated.”
A Smyrna man, 32-year old Brian Morris, was charged with burglary,
attempted theft, criminal mischief and possession of burglary tools
after he allegedly entered through a kitchen screen. Morris, a St.
Polycarp parishioner, is accused of trying to steal a chalice, a
pyx (a vessel that holds Communion that is taken to the sick), a
portable microphone, hearing devices for the impaired, holy
water, Father Flowers’ rosary, sugar packets, peanut butter and
St. Michael’s is re-sanctified
At St. Michael’s, the tabernacle was removed from the church
and consecrated hosts were scattered on the ground outside, causing the
diocese to declare the church desecrated. A gold-plated chalice was
stolen, along with two ciboria and a luna, which is a holder inside the
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines desecration as “the loss of
that peculiar quality of sacredness.” Material objects designed
for the purpose of worship assume a sacred and inviolable character.
When that character is markedly changed, those objects are unfit for use until they are rededicated.
Also, in that case, according to Canon Law 1211, the church is not
to be used for worship until the spiritual, if not physical, damage is
repaired by a penitential rite. Fortunately, said Msgr. Joseph Rebman,
the diocesan vicar for pastoral services, the instances of vandalism at
churches in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore are so rare that he had
to research the rite known as the Reconciliation of a Church.
While St. Michael’s celebrated a Mass, the parish could have
had a quiet, private ceremony, Msgr. Rebman said. “It’s a
very short service,” he said. “In fact, we had to put it
together because it’s so rare that we have to use it.”
The bishop or a priest designated by him stands outside the church
and blesses the doors and front walls with holy water. After a prayer,
he enters the church and processes to the altar, where he recites a
litany of the saints. He then sprinkles the walls of the church,
significant interior furnishings and the location where damage was done.
The hosts found outside on the ground were wrapped in a cloth and
buried under a statue on the parish grounds, Msgr. Rebman said. This
ensured that no one would step on the buried hosts. Hosts that fall on
the ground are normally dissolved in water and poured into a sacrarium,
a sink that empties under a church, but the number of hosts involved at
St. Michael made that impractical.
Joan Ilgenfritz, the administrative assistant at St. Michael’s
and also a parishioner, said she took the damage personally.
“It’s as if your home or something very personal to you has
been desecrated,” she said.
Ilgenfritz said other items damaged included a broken door, ripped screens and a broken door handle on a reconciliation room.
Father McCloskey said the reconciliation service was a morale booster.
“It was uplifting for me, lifting me out of my doldrums. It
was powerful to realize for one moment the sacredness of all that we
do,” he said.
Security system pays off
The break-in at St. Polycarp was captured on the parish’s
four-month-old security system cameras, something Father Flowers had
installed after several minor incidents over the
past few years.
“That, unfortunately, is the deck we’ve been dealt.
It’s to protect the people and to protect the sanctity of the
Eucharist,” he said.
Some parishioners who attended Mass on Friday for the Assumption
were in tears upon hearing the news. That is understandable, he said,
because parishioners see the parish as their home and because it is a
“special and sacred place.”
Some of the items Morris allegedly placed into a bag he picked up in
the sacristy have special meaning for Father Flowers. His mother gave
him the chalice, and Pope John Paul II blessed his rosary. He said he
reblessed them even though they were not desecrated “just so that
I could use them again without getting the willies.”
Ironically, St. Polycarp had intended to hold a prayer service last Friday for the people of St. Michael’s.
“We didn’t expect we’d be quite so much in solidarity with them,” Father Flowers said.