MERRILVILLE, Ind. – An attack on a northwest Indiana priest is being investigated as a hate crime by the FBI.
The Rev. Basil Hutsko was hospitalized after he was beaten at St. Michael’s Byzantine Church in Merrilville, Ind., Monday morning as he finished celebrating liturgy at the church.
Hutsko told the Rev. Thomas Loya that as his back was turned, a man came up suddenly from behind. The attack left the priest unconscious for 15 minutes.
“[He said] the attacker grabbed him, choked him and threw him to the ground and knocked him unconscious,” Loya said. “He was wearing gloves. Father Basil does not know who it was, but while he was attacking him, he heard the attacker say, ‘This is for all the kids.’”
Hutsko took that as a reference to the priest sex abuse scandal that’s back in the headlines after a grand jury in Pennsylvania found Roman Catholic Church leaders covered up child sex abuse by more than 300 priests over seven decades. Loya said his friend and colleague has never been accused of sex abuse.
“He’s a very dedicated priest and hardworking and in good standing, it’s just a random act of an innocent priest,” Loya said.
Hutsko is undergoing tests now to determine the extent of his injuries. In the meantime, his fellow priests are sounding the alarm and saying all clergy are now targets and need to be vigilant. Loya said in the past, other priests have been attacked and/or disrespected because of the scandal.
WGN found a blog post about Hutsko’s attack in which the blogger appears to be encouraging his followers to take matters into their own hands and “beat up some priests.”
Loya said he is not surprised by the attack, in fact he expected it to happen, just not to someone he knows.
“The stories are very ugly, you know, let’s face it, and very unbecoming of the church so I can see where some people might become enraged, but at the same time people get enraged and do this to an innocent priest and that’s not going to help or solve anything,” he said.
Merrillville police have turned the investigation over to the FBI to be investigated as a hate crime.
The FBI has not responded to request for comments.
No one is in custody.