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Mormon missionaries accused of beheading statue at Catholic shrine

.- Photos of three Mormon missionaries mocking the Catholic Church, which recently surfaced on the Internet, have upset Catholics and shocked Mormon leaders, reports the Denver Post.  The men have also been accused of breaking the head off of a statue of saint at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs in San Luis, Colorado.

In 2006, three missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) visited a Catholic shrine in the San Luis Valley in Colorado. While at the shrine, the Mormon missionaries photographed themselves in poses that demeaned the Catholic Church.

The pictures, which were posted last week on the photo-sharing site Photobucket, show the men preaching from the Book of Mormon behind the altar; holding the head from a statue of St. Manuel Morales, a young Mexican who died opposing anti-religious laws; and one of the missionaries pretending to sacrifice a fellow missionary on the altar.

According to The Pueblo Chieftan, the three missionaries face possible charges of desecrating a venerated object, criminal trespass, defacing property and bias-motivated crime.

The LDS mission president who oversees the area of the San Luis Valley, Robert Fotheringham, told the Denver Post, "We have a history of people doing things like this to us, so we're mortified that our missionaries would do it to someone else.  It's beyond embarrassing. It's inexcusable."

The only vandalism from the incident was the beheaded statue.  The missionaries had placed the head back on the neck of the statue and the damage went unnoticed until the photos were discovered last week.

After a vote the parish council decided to report the matter to the Costilla County Sheriff’s Office. 

Fr. Pat Valdez told parishioners at their meeting on Friday night that, “What they did was extremely imprudent, extremely uncharitable and inflammatory. You have worked hard and this whole community has worked hard to build that shrine as an expression of our faith and an expression of our love of God."

While no damage estimate was available, Alonzo Payne, a lawyer in San Luis, said that the parish would not exclude the possibility of a lawsuit to recover the costs of repairing or replacing the statue.
   
In a written statement to the parish, one missionary, R. Thompson apologized for the disrespectful actions of the trio.

"I realize that my companions and I have made a mockery of that which is most sacred to many of the residents of San Luis and the rest of the world. I should have known better because I have seen many of the same types of blasphemies made against my own church and I have been appalled," the statement read.

A statement from the LDS church went further to address the vandalism: "We are deeply saddened to hear that the actions of three missionaries have resulted in the destruction of property."


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