Thefts plague Oahu churches

| August 10, 2010

A rash of burglaries at Oahu Catholic churches — including car break-ins during Mass — has gotten so bad that some churches are struggling to find enough volunteers to monitor their parking lots, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ewa Beach wants to install a second set of security cameras.

"They're stealing everything that's not nailed down," said the Rev. Scott Bush, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who is also the vicariate for Leeward Oahu. "They've practically cleaned us out. It is a problem."

Catholic churches that have organized patrols to watch their parking lots during Mass are struggling to find enough unpaid volunteers, said Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu.

At his own church, St. Elizabeth in Aiea, six Masses are held on the weekends, including all day Sunday, Downes said. "We have parishioners who monitor two separate parking lots, and we always have trouble getting enough volunteers. They essentially have to make time for two Masses, including one for themselves."

The Catholic Church has not compiled a complete list of crimes against individual parishes. But churches reported yesterday a spate of car break-ins and after-hours burglaries that appear to have picked up pace in the last two years, perhaps coinciding with the recession.

"Whether it's kids or people on drugs, the economy exacerbates it," Bush said.

Last year, officials at Our Lady of Perpetual Help changed building locks and installed nine surveillance cameras after thieves broke into parked cars belonging to parishioners, ransacked the church office and made off with collection money, and broke into a storage shed and stole expensive equipment, including a leaf blower and a pressure washer.

As the thefts continued, a security consultant identified several blind spots and has recommended installing five more security cameras, a job the church is taking bids on.

In little more than a year, Bush estimated, the thefts and extra expenses for security will cost his church about $10,000.

"It's sad when people, especially those on drugs, will do desperate things," Bush said. "It seems that some people would turn in their mother for a fix. And when you put poverty and drugs together, oh my."

Jimmy Fernandez of Ewa Beach has spent the last year patrolling the parking lot at Our Lady of Perpetual Help every Sunday.

It's lonely duty, but it seems to have paid off because no one's burglarized a car on Fernandez's watch.

"I just walk around by myself," he said. "I just figured maybe I should help out."

Officials at St. John Apostle and Evangelist Catholic Church in Mililani are considering organizing similar volunteer patrols during Mass.

"We had two car break-ins last month," said the Rev. Manuel "Father Manny" Hewe, who is also Central Oahu vicariate. "We're talking about having to dispatch people about during the celebration. It is pretty sad."

Hewe's church saw five car break-ins last year during services. And burglars broke into the parish two years ago and made off with money offered by parishioners.

"Some people would say it's drug-related, but I don't know," Hewe said. "I pray for them, and we must pray for their conversion. But you do have to be vigilant in your own house, too."

So pastors such as the Rev. Thomas Purayidathil of St. Elizabeth hope his parishioners can muster enough volunteers to keep would-be burglars at bay.

"I don't know what's causing it," he said. "The economy, drugs — it could be all of that."

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Category: Church Security