Little Sacred to Metals Thieves

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A vicar at one medieval church in the U.K. now finds himself sleeping on a mattress in the church tower, hoping to deter criminals. As metals thefts remain high, religious institutions are starting to face a new plague: metals thieves. We’ve reported metals thefts in foreclosed houses and public parks, but the latest slew of thieves could someday face a higher power than the police.

Last winter, for example, copper thieves ripped apart the Kesser Israel Synagogue in Springfield, Mass., completely destroying the building in a search for baseboard heaters, copper wiring and copper piping. The synagogue suffered $30,000 worth of damage, and a broken water pipe caused flooding. Meanwhile, an entire steeple was pulled from a church in England, leading to £750,000 worth of damage.

In the U.K., thefts from churches have cost insurers more than £1 million per month, as lead tiles and copper lightning conductors are covertly removed and sold as scrap metal. Sometimes, the same churches are hit several times, causing insurers to pose strict limits on payouts. A company called Ecclesiastical insures 95 percent of Church of England churches, and the company’s church insurance manager explains: “We do what we can to help them prevent thefts, such as marking metals with ‘magic water’ which shows up under ultraviolet light and allows it to be traced. But we have had to impose a ceiling of £5,000 per claim because it is an uninsurable peril.”

At one Buddhist retreat, a stolen golden statue had local Buddhists anxious and worried — but not about the missing precious metal. Instead, the crowd expressed concern for the perpetrators, sure to experience bad karma for the theft.

“Positive actions will have a happy and positive result, whereas negative actions will have a suffering result. The action of stealing will bring some kind of negative result to the perpetrators,” the director at the retreat told reporters. “The theft of a holy object from a holy shrine is considered to be particularly serious. So, while we are feeling sad about the loss of our precious statue, our concerns at this time are mainly for those who stole it and any potential buyers.”

–Amy Edwards

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