WILLIAMSBURG — A Jesus statue in front of a church rectory was ripped from its base and stolen last week in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime, officials said.
The nearly 4-foot-tall white porcelain figure that has stood outside Saints Peter and Paul Parish's rectory on South 3rd Street in Williamsburg for more than 10 years was snatched early Wednesday by a man who carried the sacred figure away on foot, police said.
The incident, which was caught on the 158-year-old church's security camera at 4:07 a.m. and was reported to the 90th Precinct's Hate Crimes Unit later that day, is still under investigation, cops said.
The Rev. Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez, the leader of the 1,500-member parish, said he was shocked to see video footage of the statue's forceful removal.
"It was cemented to its base... It had been here at least 10 years," he said of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, in which Christ's arms are outstretched and a heart is visible.
"It's a religious sign of great significance... We have people who would pass by and pray."
The theft of the statue — which police value at $500 — threatens the overall security of the parish and the community, Rodriguez said.
"It's a concern for the neighborhood," Rodriguez said. "We leave our churches open all day to the public for people to pray, and we have statues in those. We don't want to have to close those."
Rodriguez said he considered the burglary a “call to action” for his parish to “make sure everything is alright in the neighborhood,” especially in light of another crime against nearby Mt. Carmel church earlier this year.
Rodriguez said that regardless of whether the Mt. Carmel incident — in which a statue was vandalized outside the church — was directly linked to the recent crime, the parish needed to examine how such incidents could happen in the neighborhood.
Rodriguez said he was “waiting for an answer” from police as to whether the theft was a hate crime.
And Jose Munoz, the head of the parish’s ushers, said the jarring theft showed a complete lack of respect for his religion.
“They don’t think there’s really God…or they hate God,” he said of the culprit’s motivation.
“Because what would make people do that?”