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3 break into Brighton church, vandalize organ, pope’s portrait

Video captures suspects’ images

Three young people broke into a Catholic church in Brighton and defaced a portrait of a former pope, destroyed an organ, and tampered with a crucifix, officials said on Monday.

Authorities said the vandals, whose images were captured on the church’s surveillance system, gained entry to Our Lady of the Presentation Church on Washington Street between 3 p.m. Nov. 23 and 11:30 a.m. Nov. 25.

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Responding officers discovered an oil painting of a pope that had been cut up, with phrases scrawled on it including “Devil’s Star” and “Scooby Doo,” Boston police said. The vandals also drew a mustache on the pope.

The Rev. Chris O’Connor, vice rector of Saint John’s Seminary, which uses the church as a lecture hall, said the painting depicted Pope John XXIII, who was pontiff for about five years until his death in 1963.

SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Our Lady of the Presentation Church on Washington Street was vandalized last month.

In an interview at the church, O’Connor said that it closed about eight years ago and recently reopened as a lecture hall for the seminary. Public events are also held at the hall.

“The thing that goes through my mind whenever somebody does something like this is just sadness,” O’Connor said, adding that he was grateful that the suspects were captured on surveillance.

“You’re on ‘Candid Camera,’ ” O’Connor said, referring to an old television show that featured unwitting guests captured in situations on hidden cameras. “It’s just one of those things that happens. You could call it divine providence, if you will, that we had cameras here.”

No arrests had been made by Monday evening.

In addition to damaging the painting and the organ, police said in their statement, “a gold crucifix was removed from the altar and placed near the front entrance. Also damaged was an alarm transmitter and a window.” The floor of the church was covered with residue from two fire extinguishers, police said.

O’Connor said he could not provide a monetary estimate of the damages.

BOSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT

No arrests have been made, but police are searching for three young people who were filmed on the property.

Officers found bags of chips, a soda bottle, and a half-empty bottle of wine at the scene, police said.

On Monday, neighbors expressed shock and dismay over the vandalism.

“It’s disgusting,” said Karen Holderbaum, 44, who lives across the street.

“So much work went into it,” she said of the renovations since the church closed. “It’s nice to see it’s still a church [and] it’s not condos.”

Her husband, Robert, also 44, said he wished he could have seen the vandals in the act and stopped them.

“It hits home when you’re right next door,” he said. “It’s awful.”

Police released photos of the suspects Monday that showed them milling around outside and later walking inside the property.

The time-stamp on the photo of the trio inside the church was 11:12 p.m. Nov. 23. One of the suspects is female, and one is male. The gender of the third suspect was not clear from the footage.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement that the building and former rectory are assets of St. John’s Seminary and that “police are conducting a full investigation in hopes of catching those responsible.”

O’Connor said the damage was not insurmountable.

“While there was a lot of damage with the fire extinguishers, we have people that work very, very hard to clean it, to get it open, and we’re here for business,” he said.

Globe correspondent Melissa Hanson contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@
globe.com
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