Attack on Byzantine priest in Indiana investigated as hate crime

Credit: St. Petersburg Theological Academy via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).
Credit: St. Petersburg Theological Academy via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

.- Monday morning's assault of a priest of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma is being investigated as a hate crime, a police official has told the Chicago Tribune.

A statement attributed to the eparchial chancery said Fr. Basil Hutsko “was attacked and knocked unconscious” in the altar server's sacristy at his parish after celebrating the Divine Liturgy.

Fr. Hutsko, 64, is pastor of St. Michael parish in Merrillville, Ind., immediately south of Gary.

The priest was choked and his head slammed to the ground, making him lose consciousness.

According to the statement, the attacker said, “This is for all the kids” as he assaulted the priest Aug. 20.

“All clergy are now targets and need to be vigilant. However it must also be clear that Fr. Hutsko was a random target. He is NOT guilty of any sex abuse,” read the statement, which was signed by Fr. Thomas J. Loya, who is pastor of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Ill.

Jeff Rice, spokesman for the Merrillville police, said the local force alerted the FBI because “it is considered a hate crime” given the attacker's words, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The attack comes in the wake of the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sex abuse of minors which discussed abuse of more than 1,000 minors by some 300 priests in the mid-Atlantic state.

Fr. Hutsko was attended to by medics at St. Michael's, and was then examined at a nearby hospital. Rice said that the priest was “definitely bruised and banged up.”

Fr. Steven Koplinka of St. Nicholas Byzantine parish in Munster, Ind., told the Chicago Tribune that the priest was “attacked from the back and he didn’t see who it was.”

“It’s just like they’re targeting the wrong guys, you know?” Fr. Koplinka said. “The rest of us try our best to be good priests and unfortunately this happened.”

Depending on the circumstances, in addition to a civil crime, the attacker could have committed a delict under canon law.

If the attacker were a Latin Catholic, he could have violated CIC 1370.3, which says that “A person who uses physical force against a cleric or religious out of contempt for the faith, the Church, ecclesiastical power, or the ministry is to be punished with a just penalty.”

Were the attacker an Eastern Catholic, he would be subject to CCEO 1445.2, which says one who uses physical force against a cleric “is to be punished with an appropriate penalty.”

Tags: Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma