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LDS Church officials have apologized for three Mormon missionaries who allegedly vandalized religious artifacts and showed "disrespect" at a Colorado Catholic church in 2006.
"The church expresses its profound regret and sincere apologies to the members of the Roman Catholic faith, to the members of the Sangre de Cristo Catholic Church and the townspeople of San Luis for this senseless act," spokesman Bruce Olsen, managing director of LDS Public Affairs, said Monday.
The Costilla County Sheriff's Office began an investigation Monday into the 2006 incident in which the missionaries photographed themselves preaching from behind the Sangre de Cristo's altar while holding a Book of Mormon; holding the head of a church statue, which one claimed to decapitate; and "sacrificing" a fellow missionary on the altar.
The alleged vandalism included the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs at the Chapel of All Saints, which stands on a butte overlooking San Luis. The damaged statue seen in one of the photos depicts Manuel Morales, who was the 28-year-old president of Mexico's National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty when he was executed in 1926 for refusing to recognize laws he considered anti-religion. He was among more than two dozen Mexican saints canonized in 2000.
Members of the Sangre de Cristo parish voted 7-0 Sunday during a special meeting to have the incident investigated, said local attorney and parish spokesman Alonzo Payne.
"We felt it was a criminal act and handed it over to law enforcement authorities," he said.
The photos were first reported to the Rev. Patrick Valdez, who serves at the church, on Thursday by a parishioner who saw them on the Internet site Photobucket, Payne said.
He said officials from the LDS Church spoke with Valdez on Friday and apologized on behalf of the church.
"I'm sure he did [accept the apology]," said Payne, who was not present during the discussion. "As a Christian, he's a very forgiving man."
The parish did not ask for an investigation until now because "there was no knowledge of the damage done," in 2006, Payne said. "This act of vandalism was really hard on the community."
LDS officials have begun their own investigation. Such disrespect is "inexcusable," said Olsen.
Mormon officials are providing the names of the missionaries involved to law enforcement officials and will continue to cooperate fully with those investigating the incident, Olsen said. "We have also arranged for a meeting with Catholic leaders to offer our apologies."
Two missionaries involved had completed their missions but will now face church disciplinary action, he said. The one who was still serving in Colorado has already been disciplined and his mission terminated.
The missionaries' actions "do not represent the high standards of behavior for which our missionaries are known all over the world," Olsen said in a statement. "Respect for other faiths is a cardinal tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story