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Mormon mayhem

March 11, 2008

I’m sure many have already heard the news, and I want to get a sense of how other Catholics feel about the recent vandalism of the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs and the mocking of the Catholic faith apparently done by three Mormon missionaries in San Luis, Colorado. The AP article from the Denver Post describes photos that were seen online of the missionaries in action:

The Internet photos showed the three vandalizing the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs in 2006 and mocking the Roman Catholic faith.

One missionary was seen holding the severed head of a statue.

The head was found and restored.

Another photo showed a missionary appearing to preach from the Book of Mormon inside the Chapel of All Saints. A third photo showed one missionary pretending to sacrifice another on the altar at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs.

Members of the parish built the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs, which has become a tourist attraction. No damage estimate was available.

Should charges of vandalism be sought in this case? Does the humiliation of having the pictures made public suffice as they certainly damage (rightly or wrongly) the reputation and credibility of Mormon missionaries? Does this sort of arguable sacrilege need to be taken to the courts? Is there a “martyr” effect for the Catholic congregants through these crimes against the Shrine and the Catholic faith that is better vindicated through forgiveness and the consequent support of the local community?

Here are the various reports on the subject:

ABC 7 News (Denver): Mormon Missionaires Investigate in Vandalism at Catholic Shrine

The Pueblo Chieftain: Church to Vote on Vandalism Charges

Rocky Mountain News: Vandalism at Catholic Shrine May Bring Charges for Mormon Missionaries

The Salt Lake Tribune: LDS Church Apologizes for “Senseless” Vandalism

AP: Missionaries Probed in Shrine Vandalism

Catholic News Agency: Mormon Missionaries Accused of Beheading Statue at Catholic Shrine

  1. March 11, 2008 11:11 am

    Cripes. I was a Mormon missionary myself, so I know that at that age I was a bit of a yahoo, but this is really taking the cake. I’m glad the church has apologized. I think those missionaries got pulled from their mission, but I would certainly see no problem with some kind of vandalism or trespassing charge (though I wonder if my erring brethren were responsible for separating the statue’s head or if they just moved an already loose head). Nothing helps along the the process of repentance like having to pay the piper a little.

  2. March 11, 2008 11:22 am

    I would also like to add — Christian missionaries, even Catholics, have been known to do similar things (and one of the reasons why there has been much problem in India, for example, is the destruction of ancient temples by Christians past and present).

    So, while we must ask “is this in line with the religious faith” I would also say, “don’t judge the faith by its worst examples by the best examples of ours” but “worst with worst” and “best with best.”

    Obviously something went quite wrong here; so I will be curious to learn what more comes out of it.

  3. grega permalink
    March 11, 2008 11:27 am

    From the way the white glows and the background seems to fade around the persons my first reaction would have been
    this is yet another instance of a Photoshoped image.
    The links seem to indicate otherwise.

    “Should charges of vandalism be sought in this case?” No
    “Does the humiliation of having the pictures made public suffice as they certainly damage (rightly or wrongly) the reputation and credibility of Mormon missionaries?”
    Does the humiliation of having children molested by catholic priests…?
    Indeed a difficult Question

  4. March 11, 2008 11:44 am

    Obviously something went quite wrong here; so I will be curious to learn what more comes out of it.

    Mormon missionaries live by very strict, almost monastic rules, but its largely self-enforced. Given that Mormon missionaries are mostly 19-20 year old men, this can have profound effects on a life–but when self-discipline fails, as it often does, you can get some pretty bad behavior which tends to make the Church look bad. Mormons have largely accommodated themselves to the trade-off, so I don’t expect you’ll see major changes in the Mormon missionary program.

    A few years ago something like this happened in Thailand–some missionaries were caught clowning around on some statue of Buddha that has religious and national significance–and the missionaries had to be removed. Afterwards the Church starting highlighting to missionaries their obligation to respect local cultures and other religions. Similar comments have been addressed recently to all members. I expect that will now continue.

    The leading Mormon blog has been discussing this incident here:
    One thing mentioned in that thread, which I think is true, is that its not vanishingly rare for a missionary to have a picture taken while pretending to preach from the pulpit in some unoccupied church. When I was a missionary one of my fellow missionaries took a picture of himself pretending to preach from a kind of elevated pulpit thingy in the cathedral in Malaga, Spain. I visited the same Cathedral myself in the company of some other missionaries who wanted to know why there was two pulpits, so I had to explain that the altar wasn’t a pulpit. I imagine that the missionary in this picture thinks the altar is for preaching. Not that that excuses the activity, of course. I think if we Americans excused juvenilia less we’d get less of it.

  5. March 11, 2008 11:50 am


    You don’t think there will be any effort to oversee missionaries behavior to make sure it is better and a better witness for your faith? That there can’t be some fixes to make sure this happens less? I would find, if that is the case, that is sad; but what I meant about learning more — it is not just what reaction and method the Mormons will use to fix a real problem (and it is a real problem when Catholics do the same thing; or Muslims; or whomever), but I am also curious to motivations, if the people who did it thought they did wrong, etc.

  6. March 11, 2008 11:58 am

    I don’t think there will be much more overseeing, HK, because I can’t think of anything in particular that would stop this kind of thing that would be worth doing. You can punish people ex post and you can educate and exhort them ex ante, but short of draconian measures you can’t stop them from misbehaving altogether. The likely salutary outcome will be that these former missionaries will experience some kind of discipline from a church court, may face some kind of legal sanction, and will probably be held up to new missionaries as a warning story for decades until the next such incident happens.

  7. March 11, 2008 12:01 pm

    For what its worth, I would be offended if, I dunno, a Catholic priest posted pictures of himself pretending to preach from our pulpits, or to consecrate sacrament at our altars, or if gays were pretending to take wedding shots in front of our temples. But I don’t think it would necessarily be newsworthy–its the (alleged) vandalism that makes it more than a quotidian display of terrible manners.

  8. M.Z. Forrest permalink
    March 11, 2008 12:02 pm

    I think if we Americans excused juvenilia less we’d get less of it.


  9. Blackadder permalink
    March 11, 2008 12:07 pm

    My gut reaction is that the shame these guys are probably feeling right about now is punishment enough. To the extent that there was vandalism that might be a different matter.

  10. March 11, 2008 12:26 pm


    The one who is still a missionary has been expelled from his mission. All three will likely face church courts, where the likely outcome is something like probation, on the condition that they apologize and try to make restitution (in the event of any vandalism).

    The back story behind all this is that the San Luis valley where this occurred is split between Anglo Mormons and Hispanic Catholics, and tensions between those two groups are high, so what these missionaries did is likely to cause more of a stir than it might otherwise. If they did vandalize anything I bet they will be prosecuted to the extent of the law, in the name of community peace, though I hope they don’t get convicted of a felony, which strikes me as a bit severe maybe.

  11. March 11, 2008 12:32 pm


    My reaction is that there can be more direction and guidance; that might seem “draconian” and yet — we are talking about missions, after all.

  12. March 11, 2008 12:52 pm

    I don’t think direction and guidance are draconian. I expect that missionaries will be getting more direction and guidance about respecting other faiths/cultures than they already were as a result of this. But LDS missionaries in recent years already receive a lot of direction/guidance along these lines, so I expect that the results, if any, will be marginal. I almost hope that these missionaries do get prosecuted, because that will give the direction/guidance some real bite.

  13. david permalink
    March 11, 2008 3:36 pm

    Jailtime for these soulsuckers.

  14. March 11, 2008 3:40 pm

    Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum

    But, their punishment has already begun, according to the AP

    Missionaries Probed in Shrine Vandalism


  15. March 11, 2008 3:54 pm

    Jailtime for these soulsuckers

    I’m pretty sure “soul-sucking” isn’t a criminal offense and shouldn’t be one. If these ex-missionaries are fined or spend a few nights in jail, it should be because of criminal trespass, criminal mischief (i.e., vandalism), etc.

  16. Jimmy Mac permalink
    March 11, 2008 5:52 pm

    Boyz will be boyz. Gotta work off them there raging hormones somehow!

    And we all know that no young Catholic men have EVER defaced another religion’s edifices.

    Was it a right thing to do? Of course not. But let’s not get all lathered up and make an international incident out of it. If the LDS church has or is about to apologize for this (and make good the damage), consider it case closed.

  17. March 11, 2008 6:05 pm

    The Mormon church has apologized and one of the former missionaries has also apologized. The other two should also (I imagine they will), and any damages should be repaired. I don’t know if that will close the case, since there are local tensions involved.

  18. Cicero permalink
    March 12, 2008 1:13 am

    As a Mormon I must say that I am shocked and embarrassed by this behavior. I hope that Catholics will not think this represents the way most Mormons feel about the Catholic Church.

    While the “pretending to preach” at the altar photo (though still in poor taste) is vaguely comprehensible as some kind of misguided fantasy about preaching to a Catholic congregation, the other photos are simply incomprehensible to me.

    The vandalism in particular must be punished.

    I simply can’t understand it as on my mission the only thing similar I ever saw were occasional snarky comments made about the Baptists and Church of Christ in the area. Once someone wrote a mocking song about the Baptists, but that resulted in a rebuke from the Mission President.

    Also, that was in Oklahoma, a part of the country dominated by Baptists and Church of Christ congregations who regularly held anti-Mormon instruction, and picketed the Mormon temple. Every Mormon Missionary must have been told they didn’t believe in the real Jesus and were going to Hell at least a dozen times on their mission. Twice I had rocks thrown at me, and I knew several missionaries who had dogs set on them, so some hard feelings might be comprehensible.

    But even there nothing like this was imaginable. I know on at least three different occasions Mormon missionaries helped in the repair and clean up of the church buildings of different denominations there in Oklahoma. Once after a flood in Blackwell in 1998 I helped clean up the First Baptist church. The second and third were Baptist and Church of Christ buildings damaged during the 1999 Tornado. So I just can’t see how these Missionaries could possibly have thought this was tolerable behavior.

    I pray Catholics will forgive us for the behavior of these missionaries and not hold it against us.

  19. George permalink
    March 12, 2008 9:55 am

    As neither Mormon or Catholic, but with family members of each faith I have followed this story cursorily. None of my family have ever visited this shrine, but we have all wondered together that if this alleged vandalism took place in 2006, why did it take until now, with pictures placed on the web, to discover that a statue had been decapitated? Are there not caretakers at the shrine? Or was it found and restored a year or so ago, and attributed to random vandalism? I hope that if there is proof that these missionaries were the vandals that charges are filed, but without proof I hope that they are not held as scapegoats. There should be some sort of personal repercussion for their other actions, but what is the appropriate punishment for religious insensitivity?

    I also hope and pray that this incident will quickly resolve and not cause lasting ill-will between those of both faiths.

  20. Neal permalink
    March 13, 2008 12:40 am

    I think we need more information than what has been given in the news articles before we can judge the two photos.

    Were the places that the missionaries were standing in both photos off limits to visitors? Were there signs or ropes/barriers indicating a line they were not to cross as visitors?

    As someone already said, the photo of the missionary holding the broken head is not evidence that he broke it off the bust. And the accusation that he did so in the text accompanying that photo on the web page is not proof, but is something that warrants investigation. Unless there were signs indicating that the location of the bust was off limits, there is not much that is actually incriminating about the photo of the missionary holding the head of the statue. So far, the only context that we’ve been given has come only from those who were not there at the time the photos were taken.

    It seems to me that “crimes” of sacrilege and disrespect depend very much on the knowledge and intent of the perpetrator.

    I’d like to hear the missionaries’ side of the story before passing judgement on the severity of the incident. At the worst, this seems like something that would be best resolved with letters of apology, some service to the parish by the men involved, and restitution to repair or replace the broken bust if it was indeed broken by one or more of them.

    It’s likely that the missionary behind the altar didn’t know it was an altar or that it’s considered a holy place by Catholics. And if the sanctuary was open to the public, was he actually trespassing at that point? I don’t see anything being vandalized in the altar photo. Disrespected, probably. But not vandalized.

    This is a situation where I think it’s too easy to get on a high horse, point the finger, and try to one-up each other to see who is the most shocked and outraged, kind of like how everyone reacted to the Duke Lacrosse case before the facts came out.

    This is also a situation where the publishing of the incident is causing a lot more hurt feelings than the actual incident did.

  21. March 16, 2008 1:58 pm


    I’m pretty shocked that Mormons would do something like this. This really goes against the stereotype of a good Mormon. I’m hoping here that it’s only an aberration.


  22. May 15, 2008 2:49 pm

    What’s funny to me are the comments of shock and awe that seem to litter the responses here. “I’m so shocked! How could this have possibly happened? I NEVER would have done something like this, because my mission experience was this, and my mission experience was that…”

    Look, as it’s been said before, these are 20 year-old men. Yes, they’re Mormon missionaries. Yes, they represent the LDS Church, and have been taught what to do and what not to do. But let’s be perfectly honest, these are boys, kids even. They don’t necessarily understand what might be the repercussions of their actions, mostly because they probably didn’t fully understand what might happen anyway.

    From what I know about Mormon missionaries, they are very good guys who do really great things, but they’re also human. They do the same thing every single day, have a million and a half different rules for everything about their lifestyle, and are so entertainment starved that they look for humor all over the place.

    My personal opinion is that there wasn’t really any vandalism. If you look at the neck of the bust, that thing is near flat. You’d really have to grind that down smooth to get it looking like that, and the odds of “breaking” it off in such a manner with the tools that missionaries generally have with them is pretty unlikely.

    It’s more than likely just an incident that’s gotten WAY out of hand, and has been blown extremely out of proportion. I know from visiting foreign lands, sometimes something that seemed really funny at the time turns out to be offensive. It’s the clash of cultures that is inevitable when we don’t fully understand one another’s customs.

  23. Joey Zimmers permalink
    May 28, 2008 1:05 am

    This is such a shame….I am 21 and I would never even think of doing something like this. I know I am not perfect either but THIS… in my point of view I think this is so embarrassing! I think that the church needs to teach these missionaries the importance of the word RESPECT. I myself am a recently return-missionary and if I even thought of doing something like this, I should also just start teaching hate to all the people I come into contact with. I know this is not the church’s fault but I think that it should be addressed and pounded into all the missionaries heads. As these missionaries are representatives of my church. Thanks….that’s just my two-cents on this horrible news :)

  24. October 14, 2008 2:29 pm

    Hmmmm that’s weird. How did you get these pics? I don’t believe that those missionaries took these pics and show /send them to you. That seems more like somebody trying to incriminate the mormons.

  25. Audrey permalink
    November 15, 2008 1:18 am

    Hay I am from there and yes it was a big thing it was not the firdt time the heads were removed they have been vandalized many time over the years and are vary fragle

  26. audrey permalink
    November 15, 2008 1:21 am

    I should add not only by the missionaries but many teens and yes db it did happen and the missionarys are not allowed to go up there any more ecause for that.

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