A Massachusetts man with a long rap sheet was charged with desecrating a 150-year-old crucifix statue after he was videoed Tuesday using it as a swing outside a historic Catholic church.
Michael Patzelt, 37, of Attleboro, was charged Wednesday in Boston Municipal Court with assault, malicious destruction of property and causing injury to a church or synagogue over $5,000. CBS News Boston reported.
Video of the brazen vandalism – which prosecutors say caused about $20,000 in damage – shows a statue of Jesus Christ with an arm missing outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End. It is shown being swung back and forth.
Patzelt has a long history of vandalism and assault in both Massachusetts and Florida.
He is also accused of attacking a woman who was walking outside the cathedral with her son on the same night as the vandalism, and of stalking another woman.
“He decided to come at me,” Tashana Watson told the magazine. “I pushed him four times to get him away, and he grabbed me by the hair and my hat and threw me. He tried to strike up a conversation to the effect of, ‘Just shoot me.’ I don’t know if he said it to me or to my child. ”
Watson was able to escape unharmed, but only learned of the vandalism several hours later.
“It’s a shame because it’s a historic building. I’m a member of the parish and my grandmother went here. This attack makes everything feel like it’s open to attack,” Watson said.
Stunned witnesses intervened and tried to pull Patzelt to the ground before police arrived.
Samuel Copans called the incident a violent struggle and said Patzelt was swearing and saying he could “do whatever he wanted.” The priest then came out and Patzelt said vulgar things to him, Kopans added.
Mr. Patzelt is being held on $5,000 cash bail, 10 times the amount sought by prosecutors.
The charges reportedly alarmed Judge Paul Tresseler, who asked whether the crime was “a matter of a depraved mind or a very sick mind.”
The defense has argued that Patzelt is homeless and unemployed after the recent death of his grandmother.
Defense lawyer Joanna Stati said: “He regrets what happened and the fact that he was put in this position.”
The Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement that it would work with the church to “assess the damage.” NBC Boston reported.
“We have no information as to why someone would take such action,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
Patzelt is scheduled to return to court on November 30th.
Consecrated in 1875, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest church in New England and serves as the principal church of the Archdiocese of Boston.