On Saturday afternoon, March 29, the Archdiocesan Cathedral and three other Catholic churches in Vienna were vandalized. Statues of saints were knocked over, in many cases destroying them, and other sacred objects including a baptismal font and a crucifix were damaged. A 37-year-old man from Ghana was arrested the following Monday and confessed to the vandalism at the Cathedral, the church of the Vincentian Fathers and two parish churches in the districts of Breitenfeld and Neuottakring.
The man first came to the attention of law enforcement on Saturday afternoon at 4:15 at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, after he knocked over the statue of the Apostle Jude Thaddeus. Employees of the gift shop and visitors to the cathedral managed to apprehend him and hand him over to the police, whereby one of the employees was slightly injured. According to the police spokesman, the man appeared confused and justified his action by condemning statues as idolatry. Because at that time only the incident in the Cathedral was known to the police, there were insufficient grounds to make an arrest, and the man was released. On Sunday afternoon, after reports of other incidents of vandalism, the police announced that they would arrest the suspect on Monday.
In a press release from the Archdiocese on Sunday, March 30, the Bishop’s Vicar for the Vicariate of the City of Vienna, Msgr. Dariusz Schutzki, wrote: “Thank God genuine vandalism rarely occurs in our churches. That makes this outbreak of violence all the more upsetting. An incident of vandalism is quite untypical in the otherwise very peaceful life of the religions in Vienna.”
On Monday afternoon Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, visited the church of the Immaculate Conception, which is staffed by Vincentian Fathers. It had suffered the most damage, with almost all of the statues at the main altar and the side altars toppled and destroyed. “I am upset by the destruction in the churches,” the Cardinal said. “For centuries people have come to church to ask the saints for help in their cares and needs. Such destructive rage in a place where help is sought is deeply alarming. I hope that the perpetrator or perpetrators did not know what they were doing.” He assured the parishes affected of financial assistance from the Archdiocese.
The President of the Islamic Faith Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), Fuat Sanac, condemned the acts of vandalism in the Viennese churches. In a statement posted on Tuesday on the official website of the Islamic association, he explained that the Qur’an teaches respect for the houses of worship of other “people of the book” and therefore “the destruction of objects that are sacred to Christians must be condemned by Muslims also.” Sanac welcomed the “prudent reaction of representatives of the Catholic Church” and expressed confidence that Vienna’s “good interreligious cooperation is the best safeguard against mentally deranged outbreaks of hatred and intolerance.”
Police spokesman Roman Hahslinger, speaking Tuesday evening to the Austrian news agency APA, said that the 37-year-old man who confessed to the vandalism said that “God had instructed him” to destroy the images of the saints. The man’s condition was described as “acute non-psychotic” and he would therefore be taken to the Vienna-Josefstadt Prison.
Based on reports dated March 31 – April 2 at the Austrian Catholic news website kath.net.
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