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Crime Changes Concept of Sanctuary : Religion: After a rape attempt at Incarnation Church, only a small chapel will be open for private worship. Regular services are not affected.

August 12, 1993|TOMMY LI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

GLENDALE — In the wake of last week's attempted rape of an elderly woman inside a Catholic church, public use of the sanctuary has been restricted.

The decision--announced at the end of last Sunday's Masses--affects only those who go to the church at various times of the day to offer private prayers or worship, said Father Robert Folbrecht, an associate pastor at Incarnation Roman Catholic Church.

Usually, the church's 800-seat sanctuary at 1001 Brand Blvd. is open daily to the public before morning Mass and after evening Mass, church officials say. An average of 50 people a day use the pews for devotions and prayer.

"We have a small chapel on the grounds that we will use in place of the church being open," Folbrecht said.

The chapel has a maximum capacity of 12 and is behind the main building, away from the foot traffic on Brand Boulevard, he said.

"It's quieter. It's not right on the corner of a bus stop," like the main church building is, Folbrecht said.

Meanwhile, regular weekday, Saturday and Sunday Masses and formal services will continue inside the sanctuary, he said. Classes will also go on as usual in the church's other buildings.

Folbrecht came to the aid of a 71-year-old Glendale woman Thursday in the church's women's restroom, police said. The woman had been alone, praying in the late afternoon, when a man abducted her from the sanctuary and took her to the restroom. Folbrecht intervened, but the assailant escaped.

A 34-year-old transient, Filiberto Gutierrez Maldonado, has since been arrested and charged with three felony counts in connection with the attack. A preliminary hearing date is scheduled to be set Tuesday. .

"This was definitely an unfortunate situation," Folbrecht said. "No one had ever seen that person here before. . . . Our prayers go out to the victim.

"Obviously, last week's incident was part of the decision" to restrict public access to the sanctuary, the clergyman said. "It wasn't the only factor."

Folbrecht declined to elaborate. The parish's pastor, Msgr. Eugene Frilot, has been on vacation but was consulted about the decision, Folbrecht said.

Officials of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees the Roman Catholic churches in Los Angeles County, acknowledge that over the years, crime has forced several churches to close their doors to the public at times.

"There was a time when Catholic churches were open 24 hours a day--when people would go in any day or hour and pray," said Father Gregory Coiro, archdiocese spokesman. "I'm afraid those days are long gone. . . . With the rise in urban crime--vandalism, graffiti, gangs--and homeless people looking for places to stay, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave the churches open with any sense of security.

"Sometimes, a church that remains open (all the time) is the exception, rather than the rule."

Glendale's only other Roman Catholic church, Holy Family Church, and Holy Redeemer Church in nearby Montrose still keep the doors to their main sanctuaries open eight to 12 hours a day for private prayer and worship. Neither church has a chapel.

St. James Church in La Crescenta makes only its chapel available for personal devotions, a secretary said.

Holy Family, on East Lomita Avenue, in a residential area, has also seen its share of crime, ranging from vandalism to petty theft, said Father Paul Vigil, an associate pastor there. The church now has two electronic burglar alarm systems. And since last week's attempted rape at Incarnation, Holy Family staff members are considering additional security measures.

"I guess it (the church) is not that sacred to people, especially if they're on drugs or something," Vigil said. The attack at Incarnation Church "has made us more sensitive."

Incarnation Church officials and parishioners agree.

"When you go into a washroom, you hope there's no one else there. It's just one of those things that you think about," said Dorothy Mulhern, 83, a parishioner for 15 years.

"It (the attempted rape) just made me more aware. I think we feel secure" enough to attend church still, she said.

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