Diocesan News

Intruder Breaks Into Tabernacle at St. Joseph Church, Tosses Eucharist

The tabernacle at St. Joseph Church is located behind the altar. The word tabernacle is Hebrew for “place of dwelling.” (Photo: St. Joseph Church Astoria Facebook)

By The Tablet Staff

ASTORIA — A 21-year-old man who appeared to be emotionally disturbed entered St. Joseph Church in Astoria on June 5, broke open the tabernacle, removed the holy Eucharist stored inside it, and carelessly tossed it around, church officials said.

According to the Diocese of Brooklyn, police from the 114th Precinct responded to a 911 call that evening about a man who was breaking things inside the church at 28-47 43rd St. and trying to hurt himself. 

The diocese said in a June 7 statement that the man entered through a door that was left open for access to eucharistic adoration. The man broke photos of Pope Francis and Bishop Robert Brennan.

He then went into the sacristy and put on priestly vestments. The diocese noted that a priest found him “violently hitting himself in the head with a monstrance, a religious vessel used to display the Blessed Sacrament, cutting himself and bleeding on the monstrance and the vestment.” 

EMS was called to the scene and the man was taken to Elmhurst General Hospital for evaluation. No arrests were made. Police did not release the man’s name.

The incident shocked and disturbed people associated with the church. “A profanation of the Blessed Sacrament happened here at St. Joseph,” Father Jean Tanisma, the parochial vicar, told The Tablet.

Marlene Kaselis, who has been a parishioner for 50 years, said she was shocked and saddened.

“It’s a horrible feeling, very sad. It is sad, first of all, that someone feels that they find it necessary to come into the church like they did and do what they did,” she told Currents News.

“But also we know and understand that the person who did it just has mental issues,” she added.

Father Vincent Chirichella, the pastor, told Currents News the incident was particularly painful because It took place less than a week before Corpus Christi Sunday. 

“It does feel like we’ve been violated. And it does feel as if something egregious was done, because in this week, were we entering into Corpus Christi Sunday, that which we hold most sacred, the body and the blood and the soul and divinity of the Lord,” he said.

“The Blessed Sacrament was desecrated in our home in this home of St. Joseph. And so for us, it was very, very upsetting,” he added. 

It could have been much worse, according to Father Chirichella, who said the intruder also went down into the basement, where he tried to spread paint thinner on the floor. “Thank God he didn’t have any matches,” he said.

 But Father Chirichella also said he would urge his parishioners to pray for the troubled young man.

The next step in the aftermath of the incident, the pastor said, is for the church to be re-consecrated and prayers of reparation to be said, which the diocese said will take place June 9 at noon.

In addition, the church has asked police from the 114th Precinct to conduct a security survey of the building to see what additional security measures could be adopted.

It was the second time in recent weeks that a Catholic church in Queens has been a target. On May 18, a suspect broke into Our Lady of Fatima Church in East Elmhurst, stealing statues, religious items, and cash.

The intruder entered the church, located at 25-02 80th St., through an unlocked door and forced open an inner perimeter door, police said. 

The individual took assorted statues and other religious articles worth $890 and grabbed approximately $60 in cash.

There was no one else in Our Lady of Fatima Church at the time of the break-in, police said.

Initial reports from the NYPD said the incident at St. Joseph Church took place in the morning.