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Mormons investigated in Catholic shrine vandalism in San Luis Valley

DENVER (AP) ” Deputies are investigating allegations that Mormon missionaries may have decapitated a statue of a Mexican martyr and mocked a Catholic shrine in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.

Photos surfaced on the Internet last week showing three men holding the statue’s severed head, preaching from an altar or pretending to sacrifice each other at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Monday saying its missionaries “were evidently responsible” for the incident and offered “profound regret and sincere apologies” to Catholics and to the San Luis church.



The Costilla County Sheriff’s Department was investigating.

“The community is sad, it feels they’ve been victimized,” said Alonzo Payne, a spokesman for the Sangre de Cristo Parish Council, which owns the shrine.



Payne said a caption on the Web site said the man holding the statue’s head had broken it off. The photos, which were on the picture-sharing site Photobucket, have been removed.

Bruce Olsen, a spokesman for the LDS Church in its Salt Lake City headquarters, issued the statement saying church leaders were dismayed to learn of the incident that apparently happened in 2006.

Bruce said church officials have given authorities the names of the missionaries believed to have been involved. The names have not been made public.

One was still serving in Colorado when the allegations surfaced; he has been disciplined and his mission has been ended, Bruce said.

Others allegedly involved had already been sent home and will face church discipline, Bruce said.

The outdoor shrine is near the Sangre de Cristo Church overlooking San Luis, a small town 170 miles south of Denver and 10 miles north of the Colorado-New Mexico state line.

It includes the Stations of the Cross, an adobe church called the Chapel of All Saints and the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs.

It was built by the Sangre de Cristo Parish, which has nine churches and about 450 families across Costilla County.

“You kind of feel hurt when somebody has put that much time and energy for something in such a poor community,” said Payne, a San Luis attorney and a member of the parish. “You really felt like you had been damaged personally.”

Payne said the date stamp on the photos was 2006, so he believes that’s when the incident occurred.

The damaged statue depicts Manuel Morales, who was the 28-year-old president of Mexico’s National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty when he was executed in 1926 for refusing to recognize laws he considered anti-religion, Payne said.

The damage went unnoticed until a parish member saw the photos last week on Photobucket. When parish members investigated, they found the statue’s broken head had been set back on the bust but was loose.

Photobucket released a statement saying it had no record of the shrine photos but

that it has rules forbidding content that is illegal, obscene or threatening.


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