Vandal urinates in holy water at local church

| July 23, 2010

An Oak Ridge church is still trying to clean up the damage after vandals struck last week.

Father Bill McKenzie says someone used permanent marker to scribble on statues and write offensive language on doors at St. Mary's Catholic Church.

The vandals also defaced and broke off the hands of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a sacred statue in a small garden dedicated to the memories of unborn children.

Church leaders also discovered statues that had been ripped off their bases and flowers that had been pulled from the ground.

Inside, the vandals poured cooking oil onto the kitchen floor and dumped mini marshmallows into a freezer.

But Father McKenzie said the worst crime occurred when someone urinated in the holy water.

"That probably is the most offensive because, really, it's a reminder of our baptism for all of us, not just Catholics, but for everyone," he said. "It's through the waters of baptism that we achieve salvation, and so it's really kind of an insult to that very baptism of who we are."

Father McKenzie said it all happened last Friday, in the middle of the afternoon, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The church reported to the crime to the Oak Ridge Police Department, which is now classifying what happened as a hate crime, according to the police report.

"They call it a hate crime, but it really is more of a crime of ignorance and lack of understanding, because I think if we really understood the value that it plays in the faith life of individuals, we'd never let ourselves get to that point where something like that would happen," Father McKenzie said.

Over the past week, church members have cleaned the graffiti off the doors and some of the statues. They've also planted new flowers to replace those that were destroyed.

Father McKenzie said he also received word Thursday morning that an anonymous Knoxville resident had offered to cover the cost of the damages, which he estimates to be between $600 and $1,000.

Meanwhile, Oak Ridge Deputy Police Chief Alan Massengill says officers have no leads in the case and are hopeful someone from the public will step forward with information.

"If they find someone, then we would press charges because that's what we should do," Father McKenzie said. "People should be responsible, but I'm not seeking vengeance or anything like that. I truly do pray for the individuals."

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Category: Church Security