Audacious theft at archbishop’s home nets Catholic treasures
By ANTHONY LONETREE, Star TribuneJune 30, 2008
An overnight burglary at the St. Paul residence of new Archbishop John Nienstedt netted the thief or thieves the gem- and precious-metal-laden rings and crosses worn by bishops throughout the 150-year-plus history of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a church official said Monday.
“These things are historically and reverentially irreplaceable,” said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese. “They’re beyond value.”
Believed to be missing, as well, are rosaries and a small safe. “It’s like a historical treasure trove, if you will,” McGrath said.
The burglary came on a weekend that was set to be a glorious one for Nienstedt, who was in Rome for a welcoming ceremony featuring Pope Benedict.
According to St. Paul police, the break-in occurred at the residence at 226 Summit Av. between 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. Saturday. Whoever broke in climbed onto a first-floor roof and broke into a second-story window, police spokesman Peter Panos said.
About a week earlier, Nienstedt had set out for Rome with a group of about 100 church officials and worshipers, many of them acquaintances from his years as the bishop of the New Ulm Diocese, McGrath said.
On Sunday, they were witnesses to a ceremony in which Nienstedt received from the pope a pallium — a garment presented to all archbishops. “It is an important event,” McGrath said.
Along with Nienstedt’s “former faithful from New Ulm,” the archbishop then was to embark for Ulm, Germany, on a trip that had been delayed by his selection to his new post, McGrath said.
Early Monday, Panos, the police spokesman, said that it appeared that the stolen items might consist of a camera and personal jewelry, “but they’re not sure,” he added. But by afternoon, McGrath reported first the addition of the safe, then the rosaries and finally, after a church official reached Nienstedt overseas, the rings and pectoral crosses.
McGrath said there is no evidence that the burglary had political overtures against Nienstedt, whose orthodox style has been controversial with some Catholics in the archdiocese. The intruders were clearly bent on burglary, he said, adding that it appears that there were at least two people working in tandem and that they were familiar with the residence.
“These guys were pros,” he said. “The glass they broke through is, like, three or four inches thick. They couldn’t get through without a sledgehammer. They executed a well-thought-out plan. They knew exactly where to go in his bedroom.”
Panos said that police, too, believe that more than one person might be involved. The weight of the safe alone, he said, suggests that teamwork was required.
McGrath, who said he did not know if the stolen items were insured, said he couldn’t imagine someone wearing them. The crosses, for example, “are on a gold chain, very ornate,” and drape over the chest, he said.
“I don’t think 50 Cent would wear it,” he said, referring to the rap star.
Looking back, McGrath said he could not think of another such incident in the archdiocese’s history.
“It takes a lot of gall to rob an archbishop” across the street from the Cathedral of St. Paul, he said.
Staff writer Terry Collins contributed to this report. Anthony Lonetree • 651-298-1545