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Thief flees with tabernacle from South Buffalo church

A thief stole the tabernacle filled with consecrated hosts from the altar of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in South Buffalo on Wednesday afternoon.

But this is not just any Catholic church.

About 60 percent of the members of the parish are the families of police officers and firefighters, a fact that the St. Martin rectory hopes will give the crook second thoughts and prompt the return of the tabernacle, “no questions asked.”

The ornate brass and bronze tabernacle is valued at $3,300 to $5,000. The wafer hosts, when consecrated, are distributed at Communion.

“I‘ve heard of them stealing chalices, but never heard of the tabernacle being stolen,” said the Rev. James G. Judge, pastor of St. Martin, at 1140 Abbott Road. “To me, it is a real sacrilege. It’s usually a drug addict who does something desperate for money, and they don’t know what they have taken.”

Another Catholic clergyman said he was praying that the theft did not involve someone looking to desecrate the hosts, which are also known as the Blessed Sacrament.

“It’s going to be very difficult to sell a tabernacle. The police are going to be looking for it,” said the cleric, who asked that his name be withheld. “Sometimes, people who are into satanism do this sort of thing.”

Detectives from the South District have interviewed several witnesses who were inside the parish’s adoration chapel at about 1 p.m. when they noticed the thief fleeing with the tabernacle.

“The thief chose the biggest and heaviest thing that you could carry out of the church,” Judge said. “The tabernacle had to weigh 40 to 50 pounds. We’ve had it on our altar since 1958.”

Judge said that it is the policy of the church to leave the doors unlocked to accommodate those who want to enter and pray.

That policy, until now, had not resulted in anyone taking advantage of the church’s openness.

But about five years ago, a thief broke into the rectory and stole a petty cash box, which brought about a policy change.

“We no longer keep cash here,” Judge said.

He and others at the church, the pastor said, are very upset over the theft of the tabernacle, but hopeful that detectives can solve the crime.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said he was deeply disturbed over the theft.

“We have had chalices stolen from churches before, but I can’t ever remember a tabernacle being stolen,” Derenda said. “It is sad that somebody stole it to probably feed their drug habit.”