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Irish police probe incidents concerning church burglaries

Catholic parishes are on alert as police search for armed raiders who broke into church rectory in Archdiocese of Armagh
People leave after attending Mass at the Old Church Chapel at the Knock Shrine in Knock, west Ireland on May 18, 2015.

People leave after attending Mass at the Old Church Chapel at the Knock Shrine in Knock, west Ireland on May 18, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 22, 2024 05:17 AM GMT
Updated: March 22, 2024 05:23 AM GMT

The Garda Síochána, Ireland's National Police, are searching for armed raiders who broke into a church rectory in early March, threatened two priests with weapons before spraying the clerics with bleach and making off with the Sunday Mass offerings.

Father Vinod Kurian, originally from India but now working in the Kilcurry parish in the Archdiocese of Armagh, described suffering the ordeal in his home as very "upsetting."

Both Father Kurian and his confrère, Father Oliver Stanfield were at home in the parochial house on the evening of March 9 when four men broke in and confronted both priests.

"I was up in my room when one man came up armed with an ax, another confronted Father Olivier with a hammer and the other two men were trying to break into the safe with hammers," Father Kurian told The Argus, a local newspaper.

He described how he initially repelled the attacker. "I managed to push him out from getting into my room, I locked the door and opened the window and started shouting for help, but no one heard me. I took out my phone and started to ring the gardaí [police], but by this time he had broken through the door and told me to give him the phone."

"I was taken downstairs to the safe and told to give them the keys, which I did, but they had already damaged the lock to the safe and couldn't get in. They kept hammering at the safe and got in to take the weekly collection money and some sterling donations from the shrine."

"Then they sprayed bleach on the two of us and around the office and left," the distressed priest said.

The whole ordeal lasted about half an hour and both priests were left uninjured but traumatized by the experience.

The parish is in the Irish Republic but straddles the border between the republic and Northern Ireland. Father Kurian said he believed the raiders might have crossed the border from the north.

"The four men had South Armagh (Northern Ireland) accents and some of my parishioners have said that they saw four men working in the fields earlier that day. It might have been them watching the house," the priest said. "They took my phone and it was found on a crossroads nearby."

Meanwhile, all parishes in the Diocese of Kerry in the southwest of Ireland have been asked to review security arrangements amid concerns about break-ins and burglaries in churches and other buildings.

Irish police reportedly are investigating a number of incidents concerning church burglaries.

Parish councils have been asked to review security procedures "with a view to ensuring that reasonable precautions are in place to protect parish property," a spokesperson for Bishop Ray Browne said.

Parishes have been advised that valuable religious items must be stored away in unmarked and secure cabinets, the spokeswoman for the diocese said.

In addition to the parish church, most Irish parishes have two or three other places of worship known as "chapels of ease." These were built at a time when car travel was rare to facilitate Masses for parishioners unable to walk to the main parish church. Many of these are isolated, but continue to be open during the day for private prayer.

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