Clues lead to charges of vandalism

By Todd Moen Contributing Editor

The clues needed to help solve a recent act of vandalism at St. Boniface Catholic Church in St. Bonifacius proved to be in ample supply after authorities discovered the suspect’s wallet, driver’s license and cell phone left at the scene of the crime.

Jason Robert Cooney, 28, of St. Bonifacius was charged with two felony counts (2nd degree burglary and 1st degree property damage) for his role in an act of vandalism that occurred at the church on the night of May 30 or early morning May 31.

According to the complaint, Minnetrista Police received a report of a burglary at the church at 7:43 a.m. on Thursday, May 31. Officers arrived at the church and learned that an unknown suspect had entered the church without permission and caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to the church’s property.

In a message to his congregation, the Rev. Thomas Balluff alleged that the suspect pushed over a statue of Jesus the Good Shepherd as he or she entered the sacristy. The person then allegedly destroyed statues of St. Francis and St. Anthony that were located in the sanctuary. A taller statue of St. Boniface was pulled down and broken into several pieces.

"The main altar candles and the high altar candles were also badly damaged," Balluff said. "There was wax poured out all over the carpeting and on the flag."

Officers also noted forced entry to the church’s back door. Although the statues are believed to be priceless, church officials told authorities that the cost to repair and/or replace the damaged property was estimated to exceed $12,000.

During their investigation, officers recovered clothes left at the scene, including a cell phone and a wallet that contained a driver’s license for Cooney. A few hours later, authorities picked up Cooney, who was charged on Friday, June 1.

According to the complaint, Cooney stated in a post-Miranda statement that he was intoxicated the night before and would have walked past the church on the way home from the bar. Cooney positively identified the clothing found at the church as his. He allegedly told authorities he was willing to pay the church for any property damage.

Cooney is currently in custody. If convicted, the maximum penalty for 2nd degree burglary is 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine and the maximum penalty for 1st degree property damage is five years and/or a $10,000 fine.

In his message, Balluff touched on the feelings that come with this type of incident.

"I believe that an appropriate emotional response to this senseless act is one of just anger, of feeling profoundly violated, and even of deep sadness," he said. "The statues were original and are priceless. Many of our older folks grew up with them, from baptism and into their 90s. Indeed a very sad day here at St. Boniface."

Despite these feelings, Balluff was championing a stance of forgiveness.

"When we learn how to forgive quickly and easily, then our lives become much more enjoyable," he said. "We can become experts in forgiveness and learn how to let go of the hurt, the wounds, resentments and grudges life sends, more quickly, not letting them burden us over a long period of time."

Balluff encouraged his congregation to forgive Cooney and to pray for him.

"After all, when everything is said and done, the statues are just things," he said. "Our faith goes much deeper. … Our faith is alive and is animated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. No one can take from us our friendship with God unless we allow them to."

Balluff said the damage has basically been cleaned up but some repair work remains on the step and the high altar (both in the sanctuary). He said that the two statues of St. Francis and St. Anthony are destroyed, but he believes the two angels, St. Boniface and The Good Shepherd statues, "are going to make it with a lot of help."

Balluff said that in the coming months, the statues would be repaired and many of the candle sticks that had been destroyed would be replaced. He indicated that insurance would pay for most of the restoration project.