|Pastors lock doors to keep thieves from stealing art|
By LISA SCHULTE
The Catholic Voice
After recent thefts at four Omaha churches, several priests are taking precautionary measures to protect their church buildings.
Many of them are locking their churches during the day to make sure thieves don't steal religious items.
Since May, three Catholic churches and one Episcopalian church have had art stolen from their walls. Paintings were taken from Immaculate Conception Church, St. Thomas More Church, St. Joseph Church and All Saints Episcopal Church. The three Catholic churches are located in south Omaha. All Saints Episcopal Church is located near 90th and Blondo streets.
All of the thefts took place during daytime hours.
Last month, the chancery for the Archdiocese of Omaha sent out an e-mail to all Omaha priests encouraging them to review their security.
'We notified all the priests to be especially alert," said Father Joseph Taphorn, chancellor. 'We really didn't mandate that they have to lock the churches, but to think about how they do things that make sense in their own churches."
Priests were encouraged to ask staff and regular parishioners who are at the church often to be alert to anything suspicious and to notify police if they see anything.
'We just want to raise awareness," Father Taphorn said.
At St. Leo Church, located just up the street from All Saints Episcopal Church, Father Harry Buse has made some changes to his security. All church doors remain locked, except for the one by the secretary's office, for the entire day, the pastor said, adding that all doors are locked during the lunch hour.
'We have signs alerting people that they have to use other doors," Father Buse said.
For Father Bill L'Heureux, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in the Field Club neighborhood in Omaha, his concern is minimal.
'We're fortunate in the sense that we have perpetual adoration here so we have somebody in our church 24-7," he said. 'We've kind of alerted people to keep their eyes open and on the hour to check the doors to make sure they are secure."
St. Patrick Church on 14th and Castelar streets has used a code combination lock for years on its doors. Anyone who wants to enter the church must punch in a special code, said Father Stephen Gutgsell, pastor.
'The main reason for our concern is the amount of traffic that we get around here on foot," he said. 'Quite frankly, we keep our doors securely locked and that's about all you can do there."
The church has been vandalized twice with graffiti in the last two months, but Father Gutgsell doesn't think the incidents are related to the stolen art.
While cautious concern exists at many churches untouched by thieves, the mood of parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church, where seven paintings were stolen, and at St. Joseph Church, which lost 16 paintings, is 'somber and discouraged," said Father Anthony Espinosa, pastor of both churches.
He keeps the doors of the churches locked now, but said they have to remain unlocked during the weekends because of Masses.
'Churches can't be churches anymore," he said.
Displayed in the frame that once held a large painting of Jesus, Divine Mercy is a sign that reads:
Long ago, a thief repented to Jesus on the Cross. Today we hope a thief will repent and return our picture of Jesus, Divine Mercy.
'I hope this person or persons will try this again and get caught and then (the police) will discover their residence and find a whole stash of things," Father Espinosa said. 'It's very carefully done. It involved study and I fear that more churches will be affected."