Cash will no longer be kept at the Cathedral of St. Peter, in Wilmington, Delaware, but little else can be done to prevent a robbery like the one that took place before the early Sunday Mass on June 13, the cathedral’s rector said.
“What can you do?” asked Father Joseph Cocucci. “We always welcome whoever comes into the church. We’ve had a number of situations where you could tell they were not coming into church to worship, but you give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Police charged Eric Hubbard, 49, of Wilmington with first degree robbery after Hubbard turned himself in June 17.
The robber fled with $65 in an envelope. Father Cocucci said the money was kept in the cathedral to provide assistance — $10 or $20 — to people who come in with immediate needs. “We’re not going to be able to do that anymore,” he said. “We will no longer keep any money in the church.”
Father Cocucci gave this account of the robbery: The man later identified as Hubbard approached maintenance director William Muzzi as he opened the cathedral at about 7:30 a.m. and asked if there was an 8 a.m. Mass. When Muzzi said yes, the man said he had a gun and demanded Muzzi’s money.
Muzzi had none.
When they saw the light go on in the sacristy as Father Cocucci arrived, the man led Muzzi to the priest. Father Cocucci said he was praying in the sacristy when the robber, again claiming to have a gun, came in and demanded cash.
“It caught me off-guard because you don’t expect a gunman to show up in your sacristy at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday,” Father Cocucci said. “It was a surreal experience. I was so calm; I chalk it up to God’s grace.”
After receiving the $65, the man asked for Father Cocucci’s cell phone, but the priest refused.
No gun was displayed, but Father Cocucci said he tried to assess how long it might take for the robber to get the gun out of his pocket in case he and Muzzi had to try to defend themselves.
Instead, the man fled on foot.
Mass started on time as two police officers talked to Muzzi at the rear of the church. The congregation of about 25 people was unaware of the robbery until Father Cocucci announced it after Communion. “I didn’t want them to be preoccupied during Mass,” he said.
In his next column in the Cathedral bulletin, Father Cocucci asked parishioners to pray for Hubbard.
Cathedral officials received about $200 in donations in the week following the robbery to replace the stolen money, Father Cocucci said.
The parish assists many people through its Seton Center social outreach program and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Father Cocucci said, resources he would have connected Hubbard to had he asked for help with food, clothing, or paying his rent or utilities. “[But he] thought he could take what he wanted with a gun.”
Printed with permission from the Dialog, newspaper for the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.