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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral rethinking open-door policy after vandalism

The Rev. Darrin Connall stands in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes on Tuesday, June 28, 2016, in Spokane, Wash. Police arrested a man last weekend after he attached a 10-inch knife blade to a 6-foot metal cross and began swinging it around inside the cathedral and outside on its steps. TYLER TJOMSLAND (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The Rev. Darrin Connall would hate to close the doors of his church, even on weekends.

But a dramatic incident at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral has parishioners wondering how to protect the church’s members and property.

Police responded to the downtown Spokane church Saturday morning to find a 27-year-old man standing on the front steps, shouting and swinging a 6-foot metal cross with a large knife taped to one end. Security footage showed he had been inside the church for about an hour, causing untold damage while tens of thousands of people took part in Hoopfest nearby.

“He came close to being shot,” Connall said. “Thank God he saw fit to put the cross down.”

It wasn’t the first time the church has fallen victim to property crime. On May 3, someone broke into the cathedral office to steal a set of brass consecration bells.

On May 11, a young man climbed through Connall’s bedroom window to steal cash from the wallet on his night stand. The man apparently jumped from a fire escape to reach the window on the third floor of the rectory. Connall was in another room, recovering from recent cancer surgery, and shouted at the man just before he slipped back out the window.

“I thought it was a worker or something,” the priest said. “I didn’t immediately realize I was being robbed.”

He added, “We’re collecting police reports like baseball cards.”

The church now is rethinking its open-door policy. Some members have suggested locking the doors on weekends when Mass isn’t being held. Another option is to hire a part-time security guard, which would be an unexpected and unwelcome expense.

Connall wants to keep the doors open.

“It bothers me to have a house of worship – a beautiful place, a place to worship God – closed,” he said. “The treasures of the church belong to the people … and it should always be accessible to them.”

James Meier was arrested after Saturday’s incident. He faces charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief and is being held in the Spokane County Jail on a $5,000 bond.

The fingers of several marble statues were broken off when struck by the metal cross. Like the church, the altar and statues are more than 110 years old.

“These pews can be replaced. This carpet can be torn up and replaced. But there are priceless things in here,” Connall said, shifting his gaze toward a panel of stained glass. “These windows are from Bavaria. They are irreplaceable.”

The church added half a dozen security cameras about four years ago. It previously had a stricter door policy stemming from an arson fire that caused $80,000 damage to the foyer in 2006.

Last weekend’s incident struck a familiar chord.

“We opened it up,” Connall said. “And now this whole thing has given us pause.”