Thou shalt not steal — let alone at Christmas Eve Mass.
That commandment apparently was broken at a Greenlawn church Monday. Police say two women are suspected of swiping a handbag from a pew while the victim went to the altar to receive Communion.
Linda Barling, now enduring the “huge hassle” of replacing her driver’s license, credit cards, glasses and cellphone, found the timing and location of the theft especially revolting.
“I thought it was disgusting, how two women can walk into a church on Christmas Eve specifically to rob people,” said Barling, who attended the Mass with her husband and three children.
Suffolk police are investigating the theft at St. Francis of Assisi Church, which both marred and delayed the family’s Christmas Eve celebration.
The alleged thieves, caught on security cameras during the 6 p.m. service, appear to be an older and a younger woman.
“They literally came in a few minutes before the church service was going to end, knowing Communion was going to happen,” Barling said Thursday. “You can see, they looked around, saw I’d gotten up, looked through the pews, saw my bag was unattended, put it under a coat and walked out.”
After expressing his dismay, the Rev. Peter F. Kaczmarek said: “The cameras are valuable, no doubt about that.”
The women, it appears, had researched their location, the pastor said.
“With a little cleverness, they tried to hide their faces; they checked what corner of the room the cameras were in,” said Kaczmarek, now warning his parishioners to leave no valuables unattended.
The church recently reviewed security with the police, who recommended several steps, including locking confessional doors so no one can hide inside during the day and then burglarize the church at night.
In addition to writing up the theft in the church bulletin, the pastor said, warning signs will be placed in the pews.
Barling’s pocketbook, containing only the cellphone, was found nearby, in the bushes, by a CVS employee. The thieves had immediately rung up charges at CVS and at a gas station on the corner, Barling said.
Suffolk police said the victim's credit cards "were subsequently used at multiple locations." Second Squad detectives are investigating.
Though the duo left Barling’s cellphone in the handbag, the police have kept it as evidence, she said.
“I will never leave my bag unattended at church ever again,” she said.
“And I would hope all other women would grab their bags as well.”
The pastor, reflecting on the unusual nature of such a theft in Greenlawn, said: “ … It’s really unfortunate that this happened.”