Thief in the Night: Catholic Artifact Stolen

By Kris W. Sky | Posted June 06, 2022

On Saturday, May 28, Father Frank Tumino walked into St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York—and was met with a crime scene.

The sanctuary floor was strewn with broken marble, “metal shavings,” and communion wafers, what Catholics deem the Eucharist. In the midst of it all yawned a gaping, crudely cut hole where the church’s prized tabernacle used to stand.

It had been stolen.

In the Catholic Church, the tabernacle is a receptacle for the Eucharist, hence why it was found spilled upon the ground at St. Augustine’s. As Tumino explained, “This is devastating, as the Tabernacle is the central focus of our church outside of worship, holding the Body of Christ, the Eucharist, which is delivered to the sick and homebound.”

In accordance with their canon law, the set of rules by which the Roman Catholic Church is governed, Catholics believe “that ‘the Most Holy Eucharist’ is the actual presence of the ‘Lord himself’ and is ‘contained, offered, and received and by which the Church continually lives and grows.’” They believe that the wafer, along with a glass of wine, literally become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ through a process called transubstantiation, in which a priest blesses the food and drink during Mass, thereby transforming them both into the substance of the Savior.

What Was Lost

Needless to say, it was a big deal when this tabernacle was pilfered. But to make matters worse, it was no ordinary tabernacle. “A bejeweled ghost of an era when Park Slope was populated by German and Irish immigrants,” this two-foot-tall relic was constructed in 1895 from “sterling silver and plated in 18-karat gold,” then peppered with dozens of “wedding bands, engagement diamonds and other jewels” donated by parishioners themselves. According to various news reports, “Police estimated the tabernacle is worth about $2 million.” One of Tumino’s predecessors, Father Robert Whelan, once surmised, “It’s probably the most elaborate tabernacle in the country.”

In other words, it was no easy feat to cart off. Yet sometime “between 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Saturday,” amid the church’s ongoing construction, perpetrators chiseled the tabernacle out of its “metal protective casing” with some “high-capacity power tool” and fled, though not without first destroying some of the surrounding altar, including cleaving the heads off of two statues of angels; breaking into an albeit empty safe; breaking a door latch; and snatching some surveillance equipment, which wasn’t working at the time anyway. Due to the substantial weight of the tabernacle, Tumino conjectures that there was most likely more than one thief.

The robbery was another fissure in an already crumbling community. “This is just one more blow,” Tumino stated, lamenting the diminishing attendance and increasingly threadbare purse. Less donations also meant no security, thus leaving the thieves a wide-open target.

But the tabernacle, though insured, amounted to more than just a material loss for the church.

Tumino addressed the perpetrators with this statement, “You’ve taken away something that is so beautiful, that has given people beauty in the midst of the ugliness of their lives and times.”

The theft was labeled “a brazen crime of disrespect and hate” by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The Real Treasure

And it is. It is a crime to take something that does not belong to you. More so, it’s breaking the eighth commandment: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

 However, let’s look at what was really stolen. The definition of “tabernacle” is a “dwelling place.” Since the Catholic tabernacle acts as a kind of container for the Eucharist, effectively the Catholic Church presumes that their tabernacles are, in fact, the “dwelling places” of the incarnate Christ.

But that’s not where Christ is anymore. He is not confined on this earth, just as He could not be confined to the tomb. “He is risen” (Matthew 28:6), proclaimed the angel. The Bible then states that 40 days after Christ’s resurrection, He ascended to heaven (Acts 1:3, 9, 10).

Scripture further reveals, “Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). He is currently performing His duties as our “High Priest” in “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (v. 11); He is “a Minister … of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (8:2).

And no man—whether priest or pauper—can compel our High Priest to do anything, least of all to transubstantiate into a piece of bread or alcoholic cup.

If you’d like to learn what the Bible says about taking communion, listen to our clear and concise program on “Christian Traditions, Pt. 3.”

There is a reason why the Word of God urges us: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). There is a reason why “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Do not lose hope over an object great only in the eyes of this materialistic world. Put your faith not in a manmade tradition, but in the Savior Himself.

Learn more about the “true tabernacle” in which the Savior is ministering in our eye-opening Study GuideGod Drew the Plans.”

Even though St. Augustine’s treasure may have been lost, within this “true tabernacle” is the Gem that lasts forever.

Kris W. Sky
Kris W. Sky is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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