A 25-year-old Edmonton man was charged with a hate crime after he allegedly disrupted Mass at a church and briefly posted an obscenity-laden video online.
In late December, the suspect was charged with mischief to religious property – a hate crime under Canada’s Criminal Code – and mischief. Police have also banned him from Santa Maria Goretti Parish, the heart of the city’s Italian Catholic community, and he will be banned from all Archdiocese of Edmonton property.
Edmonton police and the Archdiocese of Edmonton are not naming the suspect. Carmela Marino, chair of the Santa Maria Goretti parish council, said the suspect’s family is known to the parish.
Cheryl Voordenhout, spokeswoman for Edmonton Police Service, said the hate crime charge reflects the seriousness of the incident. She noted that hate crimes are not unusual – they can be for graffiti or throwing a rock into a window, for example – but in this case the circumstances were unusual.
On 13th December, three men attended the 11am Mass registering under false names. Shortly after Communion, the suspect went to the podium just as the pastor, Fr George Puramadathil, was clearing the sacred vessels from the altar. At first the man spoke in Italian.
Fr Puramadathil said he thought the suspect was a community or youth group member, or a man asking for help. The suspect then switched to speaking English. Parishioners who attended that day said the man’s speech was incoherent at first, but then they realised the nature of what he was saying.
“As this person continued his rant, we began to understand the profanities, the extremely, extremely vulgar language that he was using,” said Marino.
After Fr Puramadathil asked him to leave, the man left the altar “and right there, in front of the first pew, he dropped his pants, exposed himself, front and back, right in front of the family with two babies,” Marino said.
The suspect ran out a side door, but the exit led to a car park. He scaled a locked gate and ran away.
The suspect filmed himself. The video was uploaded online and has since been taken down.
At a Mass at the parish on 20th December, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith called the incident a criminal act and a sacrilege.
Marino said the parish has reviewed its security. More volunteers and ushers are now at the back of the church, but the doors will remain unlocked during Mass.
Police report there were 37 hate-related charges laid in Edmonton in 2020.
Nationally, hate crimes abated slightly in 2018, with a 13 per cent drop in police-reported incidents, according to Statistics Canada. Religion is a significant motivator, with 36 per cent of hate crimes directed at religious targets.
Picture: Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, meets with parishioners after a 20th December 2020, Mass at Santa Maria Goretti Parish in Edmonton. (CNS photo/Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media).