On Wednesday hooded attackers assaulted Franciscan monks at a monastery in the Alps foothills near Turin, leaving one priest severely injured and the three other victims hospitalized. The Archbishop of Turin, Cardinal Severino Poletto, called the attack “beyond comprehension” and only explicable if the attackers had been “either drugged or possessed, or both.”
The 48-year-old Father Sergio Baldin, the guardian of the San Colombano Belmonte monastery and three elderly monks from the Franciscan order of Friars Minor were having their evening meal when they were attacked, the Times Online reports.
Three hooded men gagged and bound the monks before punching, kicking, and beating them with clubs.
Father Baldin suffered severe head injuries and “serious respiratory problems” because he choked on his food during the assault. He has had brain surgery and was in a coma.
Father Salvatore Magliano, 86, Father Emanuele Battagliotti, 81, and Father Martino Gurini, 76, were still treated at a hospital but suffered less serious injuries, according to the Times Online.
Father Battagliotti, speaking from his hospital bed, said the monks had been eating a dish of spinach when they heard noises outside.
“I got up to have a look, but the moment I got to the door I was attacked - suddenly, immediately. I was struck on the head with a blow which made me totter,” he said.
He then explained how Father Baldin came to his aid:
“He put himself in front of me to try and defend me, but he too was knocked down without mercy. They hit him until he stopped crying out. Then they beat Father Salvatore and Father Martin as well. It was terrible."
Cardinal Poletto visited the victims at the hospital.
While the cardinal suggested drugs or demonic possession may be to blame, police said the motive was robbery.
Though the monks reportedly only had small amounts of money, a spokesman said “Presumably the attackers thought they would find riches at the monastery.”
Father Gabriele Trivellin, provincial head of the Friars Minor, said the assault expressed "mindless, savage and gratuitous violence," adding that the attackers had continued beating the monks even though they offered no resistance.
The attackers were the object of a manhunt as of Wednesday, the Times Online reports.