Police Recover Religious Relic Stolen from Church
Boston Globe via YellowBrix
August 17, 2010
BOSTON – The man on the phone had a crazy story, something about a religious artifact stolen from a church in Boston. As Vermont State Trooper Steven Cuttita waited for him to come to the barracks, he started Googling.
“It seemed a little far-fetched to me, but I had to check it out anyway,’’ Cuttita said in an interview yesterday.
Six weeks after one of the Archdiocese of Boston’s most precious possessions was stolen from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, the object — a bit of wood Catholics believe to be a relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified — turned up in a trailer park in rural Vermont.
It is not clear who took it or how the theft was executed. And the man who turned it in has disappeared.
But the relic is back in the hands of the archdiocese, and local Catholics were jubilant yesterday when they heard about its safe return.
Boston’s relic was a gift to a French missionary priest who later became the first bishop of Boston, and it has been venerated by Boston Catholics since its arrival in the late 18th century. [AP]
A service to pray for the relic’s return that had been scheduled for tomorrow has been turned into a celebration of its recovery, the archdiocese said yesterday.
“Our prayers have been answered,’’ the archdiocese said in a statement that also thanked Boston police and the Vermont State Police for their work. “God has blessed us with His love and capacity to forgive. We prayerfully carry on His call for forgiveness for those responsible.’’
Since the fourth century, many churches around the world have professed to have particles of the “True Cross.’’ Though their authenticity is often disputed, the relics are objects that help Catholics connect, through prayer and contemplation, with the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Boston’s relic was a gift to a French missionary priest who later became the first bishop of Boston, and it has been venerated by Boston Catholics since its arrival in the late 18th century.
The relic had been kept in a small case in the base of a crucifix that hung in the cathedral’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which is open much of the day as a place for passersby to stop and pray. A janitor noticed it was missing when he arrived to clean the chapel on July 1.
Since then, the archdiocese and Boston police have fielded numerous false reports from people claiming to have the relic. But the one that came into the State Police barracks on Aug. 9 in Royalton, Vt., — a small town about 25 miles northwest of White River Junction — turned out to be genuine.
A resident of Upper Eatons Trailer Park named Richard Duncan placed the call. He told Cuttita that he was having an argument with an acquaintance, Earl Frost, over some information Frost had, and that Duncan felt police should know. He put Frost on the phone.
Frost, who police said is 34 years old and unemployed, had been staying at Duncan’s home for a few days. He said he had a religious artifact that had been stolen from a church in Boston, but he wanted to turn it over to a priest, not the police. Cuttita persuaded Frost to bring it to the barracks.
While waiting for Frost to arrive, Cuttita pulled up news articles about the relic’s disappearance.
He called the Boston police, who told him that they had received multiple false reports from people who said they had it, according to Cuttita.
“It was uncertain whether the relic Frost was in possession of was, in fact, the relic that was stolen from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston,’’ said a summary of the incident released yesterday by Vermont State Police.
When Frost arrived, he told the police that he had not stolen the relic, but that he got it from “an unidentified third party while in Rhode Island,’’ according to the summary.
Frost also said that, using the pseudonym Bill, he had contacted the Rev. Kevin J. O’Leary, the cathedral’s rector, about returning it.
(The archdiocese confirmed that O’Leary recalled those phone calls.)
But because neither the archdiocese nor Boston police could immediately ascertain the authenticity of the relic, the Vermont State Police did not have enough evidence to charge Frost with anything.
After receiving photographs of the relic, an archdiocesan official traveled to Royalton on Sunday and confirmed that the object Frost had turned in was indeed the missing relic.
But by then, Frost was gone, Cuttita said. Vermont State Police are seeking an arrest warrant against him on a charge of possession of stolen property.
Archdiocesan officials told Vermont authorities the relic’s dollar value is between $2,300 and $3,800, according to the summary.
The officials also said that the church considered the relic to be priceless.
The archdiocese would not disclose the exact location of the relic yesterday, citing security reasons. Officials also said they have not yet determined where it will be kept in the future.
Peggy Ainsworth, a farmer and selectwoman from Royalton, had heard nothing about the relic’s disappearance and rediscovery yesterday until contacted by a reporter.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the world,’’ she said. “This is a fairly quiet little town.’’