By: Melissa Toupin
For two weeks parishioners at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Westport have been trying to wrap their heads around why someone would vandalize the alter, and steal precious items needed to celebrate mass.
"It's like you've been wounded...spiritually," said Simonne Conlon, President of the Saint John Women's Guild.
The church was broken into between March 1st and March 2nd. The tabernacle, chalices, a Roman Missal Prayer Book and other religious items were stolen. A crucifix as also damaged. A church employee noticed the desecration just before mass, forcing them to cancel services for that day.
On Saturday police made an arrest in the case. Martin Cutler, 29, of Taunton is charged with intimidating a witness, a hate crime, Massachusetts civil rights violation, desecration of a place of worship causing over $5,000 dollars, breaking and entering in the nighttime for a felony, malicious damage and larceny over $250 dollars, and use of a poison with the intent to injure when he urinated infected bodily fluid into a receptacle that held sacred holy water.
Police say Cutler's younger brother, Jesse, 27, is also directly involved.
"I thought that when a case drags on it just sorts of runs out of steam, so I'm very happy that they [police] were able to get a break and apprehend these people," said Rev. Leonard Hindsley, Pastor of Saint John's.
The items were found in a car, but were smashed to pieces. Among the damaged artifacts, the churches original tabernacle from 1911 which was stolen with the consecrated host still inside.
But, the desecration didn't stop there. At some point during the night of the break-in the brothers made their way into a small shrine room and urinated into the baptismal water.
Police say the pair tried to scrap some of the sacred items for quick cash for which they got less than $68. At least 8 people were involved in either the theft or hiding of the items. Some of the religious artifacts were stashed at the Cutlers' mothers' home in New Bedford.
Parishioners say the most difficult part will be trying to forgive the people responsible.
"All they did was destroy something that was beautiful and that was important to all of us," said Conlon.
Cutler was held with out bail. As the investigation continues additional suspects will face criminal charges.