Mormon missionaries investigated in vandalism at Catholic shrine

SAN LUIS, Colo. (AP) – Deputies are investigating allegations that three Mormon missionaries vandalized and mocked a Catholic shrine in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.

Photos surfaced on the Internet last week showing young men holding the broken head of a statue, preaching from the Book of Mormon at an altar and pretending to sacrifice each other.

Robert Fotheringham, a regional missions official for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confirmed the three men in the photos were church missionaries.

”We have a history of people doing things like this to us, so we’re mortified that our missionaries would do it to someone else,” Fotheringham said. ”It’s beyond embarrassing. It’s inexcusable.”

He declined to release their names.

Costillo County Sheriff Gilbert Martinez said an investigation would start Monday. He said charges could include desecration of a venerated object, criminal trespass, defacing property and bias-motivated crime.

The Sangre de Cristo Parish Council voted Sunday to ask for the investigation.

”The parish was a victim of a crime, and the council felt we should report it,” said Alonzo Payne, a lawyer in San Luis who belongs to the parish.

The nine-church parish has about 450 families and is based in San Luis, 170 miles south of Denver and 10 miles north of the Colorado-New Mexico state line.

The vandalism apparently occurred in 2006 at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs at the Chapel of All Saints, which stands on a butte overlooking San Luis.

The damage to the statue went unnoticed until a parish member saw the photos last week on the picture-sharing Internet site Photobucket. They have since been taken down.

The damaged statue seen in one of the photos depicts Manuel Morales, who was the 28-year-old president of Mexico’s National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty when he was executed in 1926 for refusing to recognize laws he considered anti-religion.

Payne would not rule out a lawsuit seeking the cost of replacing or repairing the statue.

The Rev. Patrick Valdez, the parish pastor, referred questions to Payne.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday March 10, 2008.
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