Friday, March 21, 2008

Criminal Investigation Against Three LDS Missionaries Who Defaced Catholic Shrine In San Luis, Colorado Stopped When Bishop Dropped Charges

At the behest of local Roman Catholic Bishop Arthur Tafoya, an investigation into whether three Latter-day Saint missionaries defaced a Catholic shrine has been dropped. Costilla County sheriff's investigator Cpl. Scott Powell said Friday March 21st that the investigation had just gotten under way when Tafoya asked that charges not be pursued. This post combines current stories from the Deseret Morning News, the Provo Daily Herald and the Salt Lake Tribune, and an earlier story from the Pueblo Chieftain. See previous post for more background.

The story broke when a local Catholic parishioner in San Luis, Colorado, where the shrine is located, spotted photos posted on the Internet showing the young men at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs at the Chapel of All Saints, which stands on a butte overlooking San Luis. The photos, taken in 2006, show young men holding the broken head of a statue, preaching from the Book of Mormon at an altar and pretending to sacrifice one another. LDS church officials earlier issued an apology and promised to hold the missionaries personally accountable.

In a letter sent to The Pueblo Chieftain, Tafoya, bishop of the Pueblo diocese, said Mormon officials had apologized to him personally.

"I ask that we as Catholics, who believe in the forgiveness of Christ, will ourselves forgive, and pray for the young men who showed such a lack of tolerance and understanding," Tafoya wrote in his letter. "I especially ask the members of the San Luis community to help the healing process by removing any anger that exists in their hearts. This is the time that we can show our love of Christ by forgiving and loving our neighbors."


In its apology letter issued shortly after the vandalism was discovered earlier this month., The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said respect for other faiths is a "cardinal tenet" of their beliefs.

Church spokeswoman Kim Farah confirmed they were pursuing their own sanctions against the missionaries involved and were glad the sheriff's office wasn't pursuing criminal charges. One missionary, who was not publicly identified but who was still serving in Colorado, had his mission terminated and was sent home. However, local LDS authorities had previously presented a letter of apology signed by an "R. Thompson", so this could be the one sent home. Other forms of Church discipline available include probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication.

The outdoor shrine is near the Sangre de Cristo Church overlooking San Luis, a small town 170 miles south of Denver and 10 miles north of the Colorado-New Mexico state line. The damaged statue depicts Manuel Morales, who was the 28-year-old president of Mexico's National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty when he was executed in 1926 for refusing to recognize laws he considered anti-religion.

One other step LDS leaders in the San Luis area took to reduce tension was to suspend any prosletyzing efforts in San Luis itself for a short period of time.

Commentary: What a class act by this bishop! Previously, the Sangre de Cristo Church's pastor also was inclined to forgive the three errant elders, but the San Luis Parish Council had voted to allow the criminal investigation to proceed on the basis that "mercy can soften justice, but mercy cannot rob justice", which is a principle expressed directly on the pages of the Book of Mormon. However, the San Luis Parish Council apparently became satisfied that the LDS Church's contrition was genuine and voted on Thursday March 20th to drop the charges altogether. The bishop accepted that decision and communicated it to the Sheriff's office.

Another point brought out in previous stories and discussions was that the missionary pictured holding the severed head of the statue may NOT have actually have severed it himself, but instead might have found it that way.

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