Bronx churches plagued by thieves hell-bent on crime

January 18, 2013 8:12:02 PM PST
Churchgoers in the Bronx are under assault. They are being targeted by thieves who find them easy prey.

The thieves even robbed a priest.

The incidents have been happening in the Melrose and University Heights sections.

Evangelina Mercedes says it happened to her. She left her pew for just a moment and her bag was gone.

"It was a bag of clothes for the child I was with and that was the only clothes the child had," Mercedes said.

Over the past several weeks, the parishioners of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Roman Catholic Church have learned that their sanctuary is not a sanctuary from crime.

Father Joseph Girone says it's a growing problem.

Thieves use coat hangers to fish bills from the poor boxes. Some parishioners have been mugged on the street outside the church. One thief even snatched the crucifix from around Father Girone's neck.

"Moment of opportunity, as I went by they grabbed the chain with the cross on it, a memento from a pilgrimage I made," Rev. Girone said.

He's confronted the thieves and heard some troubling answers.

"'This is God's house, I can do what I want in it, you have nothing to say, this is God's house' so I get that a lot of times," Rev. Girone said.

Sandra Rawlings, who depends on the church's food pantry, says it's outrageous.

"It's a good church, there's no reason for that, I don't see it," Rawlings said.

Father Girone is convinced that the root of the problem is mental illness, substance abuse and addiction.

And his church, sadly, is not immune to any of it.

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