A former custodian at St. Cecilia Cathedral was ordered to pay a $100 fine and court costs Thursday after pleading guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief for damaging property at the church’s annual flower festival.
Mark F. Kenney, 59, said he disagreed with the secular content of the show’s 2016 theme of “A Night at the Movies.” He admitted that on Jan. 29, he took a pair of bolt cutters, walked onto a catwalk high above the main sanctuary and cut a steel cable, sending a suspended Mary Poppins figure crashing to the floor.
After that, Kenney went downstairs and removed a cardboard Buddha figure from the Nash Chapel, which also featured costumed mannequins from “The King and I.” He threw the Buddha out one door and proceeded to toss costumed mannequins out two other doors.
During the sentencing hearing in Douglas County Court, Kenney told Judge Lawrence Barrett that he was prepared to pay restitution for the damage, estimated at between $5,000 and $6,000. Barrett said, however, that officials from St. Cecilia had contacted the county probation office on March 2 to say they would not be seeking restitution and had no sentencing recommendation.
“I can understand your motives, sir,” Barrett told Kenney, “but not your actions.”
Secular items such as movie characters are inappropriate in the cathedral, Kenney told The World-Herald in an interview earlier this month. He said they amount to sacrilege and idolatry.
After Thursday’s hearing, Kenney said he was glad that the episode was over and that the church didn’t “press the issue any further.” He said he was sorry to see some of his supporters disparage St. Cecilia’s pastor, the Rev. Michael Gutgsell, in social media.
“Father Gutgsell is a good priest,” Kenney said. “I don’t agree with the attacks on him.”
Gutgsell is a former chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese. He has defended the festival.
“Obviously, context is everything,” the priest said in an interview this month.
“Cathedrals are kind of the epicenter for culture presentation and development.”
Kenney, who now works as a custodian at a nursing home, remained at the church after the incident and spent a night in jail before he was bailed out. He said his actions brought attention to the tradition of holding secular events at the cathedral and said the Omaha Archdiocese would more closely monitor the festival now.
“I think they understand the problem, and the bishop has made a statement that the archdiocese will be checking into (the event) in the future,” Kenney said. “I’m satisfied.”
Deacon Tim McNeil, the archdiocesan chancellor, said it was time to put the incident in the past.
“Mark, the archdiocese and the cathedral can now just move forward,” he said.
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