A PARISH priest whose home was targeted by thieves at the weekend says it is no accident that parochial homes are being broken into during Mass with criminals now researching when and where priests are performing duties.
And according to Canon Conor Ryan, the criminals in question appear to be almost solely interested in money “as you need money to deal in drugs”.
Canon Ryan’s home in Hospital was broken into on Saturday evening while he was away saying Mass. It is the fifth time in the past 12 months that burglars have targeted both Canon Ryan’s home and the Church of St John the Baptist, which has been broken into on three separate occasions.
“It is easier to work out what priest will be saying what Mass at what time. They are hitting us right in the middle of Mass and that’s not accidental,” said Canon Ryan.
As the intruders entered the property on Saturday, the alarm went off.
This apparently did not deter them, as they tried to disconnect the security system, smashing parts of it in the process. Neighbours living near Canon Ryan reacted to the security alarm and, as they made their way to investigate, the thieves fled.
No money was inside and the culprits left empty-handed.
“There are not many places I would say where they can actually get money. There are two things that probably lie behind it – first of all they are taking nothing else. It could be the fact that the drugs trade demands money. You need money to deal in drugs and there are not many places where there is money,” he said.
“They don’t break anything – not even a window. They have ways of forcing a window without even breaking it,” he added.
In Caherconlish, thieves broke into the car of the parish priest, Fr Roy Donovan, last November and stole a sum of money.
“You get a sense that priests have become a kind of a target – a new group to target besides older people,” Fr Donovan told the Leader this week.
“I suppose we are kind of vulnerable in that they know when we are out. What is kind of frightening is that some of the priests, I gather, have all the security systems - the camera, alarms and lights and still it happens. They are determined,” he said.
With the rise in house burglaries, Fr Donovan thought it would be safer to keep the small amount of money in the car rather than in the house.
“It was an old car and they just broke the locking system. I had money under the mat and they took the money - it was November offerings,” he explained.
“It was frightening that right in front of the door of the house that this had happened. If it happened in the city or somewhere else... but right at the front door, that for me was the shocking point. Thanks be to God, nothing has happened in the church in the last three years I have been here,” he added.
In response to the recent upsurge in crime in rural areas residents in Caherconlish are working on re-establishing community alert in the area - in conjunction with Pallasgreen. A meeting is to take place in February.
New cash-handling procedures have been adopted across the diocese to reduce the risk of opportunist thefts.
Money is no longer to be kept in sacristies or in parochial houses and is instead deposited immediately in night safes at the bank, it is understood. It is also policy that collection baskets are not brought immediately to the sacristy but are instead kept by the altar until the mass has ended.