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By Adam Kramer

On consecutive days two weeks ago, two northeast Queens churches were desecrated by vandals, but the attacks were not believed to be related.

St. Gregory the Great Church in Bellerose had a statue of its patron saint toppled, while Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside was covered with anti-Catholic graffiti.

The 7-foot-tall marble statue of St. Gregory was found in pieces Aug. 31 in front of the church’s school where it had stood since 1964. In Bayside Monsignor John Mahoney of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament was awakened by police at 5 a.m. Sept. 1 to find graffiti relating to the recent priest sex-abuse scandal sprayed across the front of the church.

“The congregation is very angry, very angry,” said Rev. Joseph Cunningham, pastor at St. Gregory the Great Church. “I don’t want to let this go. It is not a minor thing.”

The church, named after St. Gregory, who was the pope in the 7th century and sent St. Augustine to convert England to Catholicism, was founded in 1936. St. Gregory’s at 242-20 88th Ave. sits on both sides of the Cross Island Parkway and is linked by an underground tunnel.

Cunningham said he could cope with vandalism of the church building.

“But when you touch something devotional,” he said, “that is something I can’t take.”

Since the 7-seven-foot long, one-ton marble statue was put in front of the school in 1964, youths have always hung around it and in the general area. But Cunningham said those kids would not have had the strength to topple the statue, which has become somewhat of a community landmark as it peers over the Cross Island Parkway.

The company that is in the process of repairing the statue told him that there were marks around the statue’s chest, which leads them to believe somebody tied rope to a car and pulled the statue down.

To replace the St. Gregory statue, he said, would cost about $50,000 and to fix it will cost $8,000.

The 105th Precinct said no arrests have been made and the investigation was ongoing. Community Affairs Officer Peter Dwyer said there was no apparent connection between the vandalism at the two churches.

“The recent attacks on two houses of worship here in Queens are an outrage that violates our ideal of democracy and religious freedom,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. “Clearly, they are and assault on all of us.”

A few days after anti-Catholic graffiti was spray-painted all over the front of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Bayside a suspect was arrested and charged with the crime, authorities said.

The Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force refused to disclose the suspect’s identity.

“I was shocked and very saddened but not over the graffiti,” said Mahoney. “It was the anti-Catholic clerical slurs. Disgusting stuff was spray-painted all over the side and front. It was a rather ugly scene.”

He said since the founding of the church at the corner of 203rd Street and 34th Avenue in 1930, there has not been a similar incident. Mahoney said one of the statues was destroyed two years ago, but the police thought it was somebody copying the rash of attacks on statues in Brooklyn that were desecrated at that time.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was knocked off its pedestal at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in 2000. The statue, which sat outside the school’s auditorium, was pushed over.

One of the church’s neighbors saw a person hanging around outside the church around 4 a.m. Sunday, talked to him and called 911 to report the incident, Mahoney said.

The 111th Precinct responded and awakened Mahoney to investigate what had happened.

The head custodian and a neighbor, Mahoney said, were able to get most of the paint off before the 8 a.m. mass.

“The people arriving for the early morning mass were very shocked, upset and saddened about what had happened,” he said.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.



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