Church Robber Uses Baptismal Font As Ashtray

| November 30, 2010

Downtown Nashville's Cathedral of the Incarnation is a piece of Nashville history, but now it's a crime scene.

"This is their crowned jewel," said parishioner Jack Paar of the Cathedral. "You don't like to see the crowned jewel desecrated.

Someone stole donations, damaged historic property and broke into prayer boxes.

On Thanksgiving morning, a man slipped through an open door at the Cathedral and ripped donation boxes in front of the memorial candles from their hinges, leaving a penny.

He also cracked into a prayer request box for veterans and used a hammer to hack through the music room closet door and a century-old door inside the confessional, searching for cash.

"My heart just sunk, that we might have lost some of our legacy and history," said the Rev. Ed Steiner, who said he's relieved the church relics were spared but feels robbed of something else. "Those feelings you get of being violated, intruded upon, that spreads through the whole community because people fall in love with their churches."

Steiner said the man was at Mass hours before the crime.

"When a Catholic enters a church, there's a certain way they enter a church, and this guy didn't have it," he said. "Not that I thought this guy was going to rob us or anything; I just knew this guy was out of place."

Steiner said the tall, white man appeared to be homeless. He expected the man would approach him after Mass to ask for help.

"Why a church? Why was he so desperate? What drove him to this?" said Steiner.

The surveillance cameras were watching the whole time. They show a man ransacking the church for about six hours. At one point, he's seen taking a smoke break and using the baptismal font as an ashtray.

"The space itself has a sense of sacred. And something, to use a word, evil has intruded on this sacred space, and so in the psyche of the Catholic community and a lot of our churches, that is the worst damage," said Steiner.

"I could pray at home. I could pray on the bus. I could pray anywhere. But when I come here, I feel one on one with God," said parishioner Heather Williams. "It's heartbreaking, to be honest with you."

The robber's total for his crime was less than $200. Church leaders said they expect to pay at least $5,000 for repairs.

"I pray for him. You know, I really do," Williams said of the robber.

Steiner said the church plans to press charges if police find the man. He said the church feels it's important to let criminals know crimes like this, no matter where they are, should not be tolerated.

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