A Catholic church in a small Missouri town suffered a terrible act of vandalism last weekend, in which human feces were spread throughout the church interior, including on the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle, sacred vessels, and the Bible. Sacred oils were also poured out on the floor, and wine was poured on sacred linens and vestments.
The woman who confessed to police to having perpetrated the crime said she was both a practitioner of Wicca and a parishioner of the Catholic church she vandalized. This weekend, the local bishop led a special ritual of purification for the church.
The vandalism was discovered in St. Clement Catholic Church of Bowling Green, MO by a visiting priest early in the morning on Sunday July 24th when he arrived to prepare for Sunday Mass. The church had been left unlocked overnight, as was often the case so people could use the church for prayer whenever needed.
The main priest of the parish, Fr. Bill Peckman, described the horrific desecration on his blog: the church’s “confessional, baptismal font, holy water font, presider’s chair, lectern, altar, and tabernacle were smeared with human feces. The Holy Oils were emptied into the carpet. Her books used for Mass destroyed. Her vestments soiled with wine. Worst of all, the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle desecrated with human feces.”
Bowling Green only has a population of around 5300, and police were able to quickly trace the crime back to a local woman after a witness reported having seen her car at the church the night of the crime.
Though 54-year-old Linda M. Howard initially told police she was only at the church to light a candle and pray, she eventually admitted to having committed the vandalism. She explained she was “mad at God because of how her life turned out and her family members were so far away,” and that after vandalizing a few items, the rest of her time in the church “was a blur.” She also said that while she considered herself a parishioner of the church, she also practices Wicca.
“[W]e must now give strong Christian witness within our community and parish,” Fr. Peckman exhorted his parishioners on his Facebook wall the afternoon of the day the vandalism was discovered. “We must pray for those who perpetrated this attack. We cannot give into the anger or fear such as an attack can muster. We cannot respond to sin with sin. We will rise above this and show not only the larger community but the attacker themselves that the fullness of God’s mercy can be found at St. Clement.”
Later that same day, he added: “When attacked, we do not allow our attackers to change us for the worse. Rather we change for the better and stronger. Make no mistake, I fully intend on making our response to the attack on our parish church a profound moment of evangelization and witness to the power of God’s mercy.”
Sacraments were not allowed in the church last week, as it was considered desecrated, which is something only a bishop can fix.
So this weekend, on the morning of Saturday July 30th, Bishop John Gaydos of the local Diocese of Jefferson City led a special ritual of purification at the desecrated church called “Public Prayer After the Desecration of a Church,” as well as Mass. This was followed by breakfast in the parish center, then a Eucharistic procession led by Fr. Peckman.
“I can breathe again,” Fr. Peckman wrote on Facebook later that day. “This morning was powerful. I held back the tears of relief as I watched the once desecrated altar, lectern, tabernacle, and other desecrated items restored. It was like watching the Holy Spirit breathe new life into what was once dormant.
“The Bishop’s homily was a strong challenge to forgive and heal. The Eucharistic Procession (accompanied by my favorite “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”) and Benediction felt exactly like the exclamation point I hoped it would.”
The same day, Fr. Peckman praised his parishioners on his blog regarding how they have responded with mercy and love for the vandal. “My parishioners have responded beyond any hopes that I would have expected. Not one asked what we were going to do to the woman who visited this tragedy upon us. Not one. Instead I had multiple request as to how we might help her.
“This is the way of Christ. No vengeance. No fear. No overreaction. Just mercy and forgiveness.”