‘Depraved heart, sick mind?’: Attleboro man destroyed crucifix at Boston cathedral, prosecutor says

An Attleboro man with a lengthy criminal history is facing charges in connection with a brazen act of vandalism at a landmark cathedral on Tuesday night that left a 150-year-old crucifix with broken arms.

Michael Patzelt, 37, of Attleboro, was arraigned Wednesday in Boston Municipal Court on charges including assault and malicious destruction of property after prosecutors say the crucifix outside of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End sustained about $20,000 worth of damage.

Officers responding to a report of a suspicious person who had knocked off a female victim’s headwear just after 6 p.m. learned that Patzelt proceeded to climb the cross and begin to swing and hang from it, breaking off several parts of the cross, including both arms of the Jesus Christ statue, according to the Boston Police Department.

“Boston police received a radio call for a person who was hanging on the cross at 1400 Washington Street...The person was seen climbing, hanging, and swinging on the cross,” a prosecutor told the court during the hearing. “He caused significant damage to the cross.”

A video shared with Boston 25 News showed Patzelt, dressed in all green, yanking and swinging on the armless portion of the statue.

Before breaking off several parts of the crucifix, Patzelt walked into a nearby store and knocked the hat off Tashana Watson, a mother who was shopping with her 11-year-old son.

“I pushed him,” Watson said. “I pushed him like four times to get him away. And then he grabbed my hair and my hat and threw it. Then he tried to have a conversation, something to the effect of, just shoot me.”

Patzelt has multiple convictions on his record, and a history out of Attleboro District Court and Florida, including a prior prison sentence for assaulting an ambulance driver.

The prosecution asked the judge to hold Patzelt on $500 bail, but a judge increased that amount to $5,000 after asking his attorney, “Counsel, is this an issue of a depraved heart or a very sick mind?”

“I’m looking at his record and I see a man who has seven pages of committed time...And then I go and I look at a 10-page Florida record, and it’s full of similar charges to what we’re seeing here today,” the judge said. “I’m going to set a $5,000 cash bail...If we’re dealing with a mental illness, let’s get to the bottom of that ASAP.”

Patzelt attorney told the court that he is out of work, homeless, and “remorseful” for his actions. The attorney also explained that Patzelt had been living in Attleboro with his grandmother but she passed away, forcing him to move out.

In addition to bail, Patzelt was also ordered to stay away from Watson and son he came in contact with and to refrain from stepping within 100 feet of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

“The level of venom and destructiveness displayed by this individual is difficult to comprehend. We live in a society where citizens are free to practice any religion they choose, and equally free to practice no religion at all. But they are not free to desecrate symbols held precious by the many faiths within our society,” Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden said.

Crews were spotted Wednesday afternoon making repairs to the vandalized crucifix.

The 19th-century statue came to the Cathedral just two years ago. It was owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor and stood in a garden at their now-closed Somerville nursing home.

“Cardinal Sean loved that statue,” said Paul Deeley, whose late parents made restoration of the statue possible, by leaving the Little Sisters their estate.

When the Little Sisters left Boston, the Cardinal had the artifact brought to the Cathedral.

Deeley was saddened to see the vandalism. “There was a time when churches were respected in our community and it never would have happened,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.”

The cathedral is the largest church in New England, measuring 364 feet in length, 90 feet in width, and 120 feet in height.

Patzelt is due back in court on November 30.

An investigation is ongoing.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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