The Most Reverend Robert J. Brennan, Bishop of Brooklyn, New York blessed and purified St. Augustine Church last Sunday, June 7th following the previous weekend’s desecration and burglary of the church’s tabernacle.
A heinous act of burglary and desecration shook the Catholic community of St. Augustine in Brooklyn. Sometime between the 26th and 28th of May, a burglar broke into the church, stole the tabernacle valued at $2 million, decapitated statues of angels flanking the tabernacle, and consecrated hosts were left strewn over the floor. Although police have said the security cameras were not working at the time, to cover his tracks, the perpetrator also stole the digital recorder from the church’s security system. The church was closed for construction at the time.
The tabernacle was made of 18-carat gold and decorated with jewels. It dates from 1895 and had belonged to St. Augustine’s ever since the church was built in the 1890s. According to the church’s website, the tabernacle was considered to be a “masterpiece” and “one of the most expensive tabernacles in the country.” It was guarded by its own security system consisting of one-inch-thick “hardenized” steel-plates. This, however, didn’t keep the robber from succeeding. Apparently power tools were used to forcibly cut open the altar and steal the tabernacle.
In a statement released by the diocese, Father Frank Tumino, pastor of St. Augustine, bemoaned the loss. “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 statement calls the holy sacramental receptacle “irreplaceable due to its historical and artistic value.” For Father Turmino the robbery is an “act of disrespect” towards the sacred space of St. Augustine.
While there is no trace of the burglar yet, Bishop Robert Brennan has since rededicated St. Augustine. “When you look in and see the place where the tabernacle once stood, it leaves you with a sense of emptiness and it leaves all of us with a sense of emptiness,” said the Bishop. Bishop Brennan said, during his homily,
The material lost is saddening. The historical loss, when you realize that tabernacle represented generations of people who have come before us. A bit of our history was taken from us. But above all, what brings us together every week, is our faith in the presence of Jesus Christ among us in the Blessed Sacrament. It was desecrated in a terrible way and indeed we are broken.
Besides the obvious material loss, some churchgoers are well aware of the far-reaching implications of such a theft. “The tabernacle is a material thing,” said Cecilia Gottsegen, a longtime member of the congregation, “but it holds so much greater. Pray for the people who did it because they need a change of heart.”
Bishop Brennan has called for a “restoration to dignity,” noting that “more than that, we need consolation in our hearts. We need healing and, hopefully, a sense of renewal.”
A reward of $3,500 has been placed all around the neighborhood in hopes of finding information that might lead to the perpetrator.