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UPDATE: Astonishing disclosure following theft at Mount St Benedict

Abbot John Pereira OSB has underscored that the theft at the Abbey Church of Mt St Benedict is not merely an issue of lack of respect for the sanctity of the church. He asserted if police investigations reveal the act was committed by someone within the womb of the monastery, then it is a deliberate ploy to undermine the progress of the monastery and to ensure it does not continue its operations.

“In the meantime, the monastery is suffering because we still have to pay electricity bills and water extraction; we have to pay workers; we have to buy food; we have expenses. Mt St Benedict doesn’t live on prayers alone…” Abbot Pereira said.

Six thousand dollars in coins, a counting machine, and a printer were stolen from one of the rooms previously used as a finance room within the Abbey Church Wednesday, June 14.

Abbot Pereira told The Catholic News the monks have been discovering thousands of dollars were being “extracted” from the church boxes and from the offertory collection for several years.

Monies placed in these boxes are dedicated solely and exclusively to the poor and for the upkeep of the monastery. He observed that the perpetrator/s might not have a key to unlock the box but know how to pick or prise the box open.

Responding to how such an act continued for so long, the Abbot explained the theft was being done “discreetly.” “So that you might not be too alarmed. Like if for instance you collected $50 on one day and tomorrow you see $49, you won’t be too alarmed. Next time you see $40 you won’t be too alarmed, the following day you might see $35 then you might start blaming it on Covid because nobody has a job now, less people are coming up so you’re looking for excuses why the fund is going down.”

However, Abbot Pereira observed that recently, the perpetrator/s seems to be getting “a little more desperate” and “anxious” to extract monies out of the monastery.

“So, it’s becoming a little more noticeable…. Because people have always contributed to the church of Mt St Benedict and if at the end of the day, when I’m clearing the box and there’s no money, you start asking questions,” Abbot Pereira said.

He said he first launched his own investigations into the matter. “We had some suspicions,” he said. New boxes made from mahogany have since been installed.

Abbot Pereira explained the former boxes that were properly secured on the walls of the monastery were made of metal with an opening in the front, also made of metal.

“But over the years, the lock was becoming a little tired or loose and someone who has the intelligence knows how to prise it open or to pick it. Now, I could have taken the measure to change the little doors and the locks, but to me, the area was so worn it did not make sense because the theft would continue,” Abbot Pereira said.

Walls were broken into in some cases to remove the former boxes. The upgrades required cement work, some repainting of the walls, and masonry work.

Abbot Pereira told The Catholic News when monies from the monastery are collected, they are secured in a finance room or halfway house. They are then counted by two monks assigned to sort the monies, account for them, package them, and deliver them to a “very strong safe” within the accounting office.

He clarified the finance rooms were “entered into” as there was no sign of a break-in. “…it is not a room that’s easily accessible. If people were to steal from Mt St Benedict and you entered our house, you will not know directly which room we have the monies in. So, you might be checking everybody’s room, but it seems as if whoever entered that room knew exactly where the money was being kept,” Abbot Pereira said.”

There were damages to the Styrofoam ceiling as the Abbot suspects the perpetrator/s would have accessed the finance room through the ceiling.

He suspects the theft occurred sometime during Tuesday (June 13) night and Wednesday (June 14) morning. It was only discovered 5 a.m. Wednesday when one of the brothers was on his way to prepare breakfast and saw the door to the finance room wide open.

He said an employee “almost got a heart attack” when he saw the doors to the accounting area wide open when he arrived at 6.50 a.m.

“And he started to shake. And he waited until Mass was finished and he called me and told me. So, I went and investigated. Before Mass I had also observed that the finance room was also entered and the door left wide open,” Abbot Pereira said.

The St Joseph Police and the Crime Scene Unit were contacted and are now investigating.

By Kaelanne Jordan