Priest Importer of Weeping Statues Under Investigation
CHICAGO (AP) _ People say tears have fallen from the eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary at a church here, but that it only happens in the presence of a priest who is the sole importer of the sculptures from Italy - and he is now under scrutiny by church authorities.
The Rev. John Starace of New York says of the inquiry into his actions, ″It bewilders me. It’s a shame that something so spiritual is being mocked.″
At issue is a statue at St. John of God Roman Catholic church in Chicago.
The sculpture wept on May 29 and again on May 30 last year, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Raymond J. Jasinki. Starace was present on both occasions.
Jasinki said he saw another statue weep five months later during a bus tour pilgrimage that Starace was leading through Northern Italy.
Starace, 42, is merely misunderstood, Jasinski said. ″It’s nothing unusual that a person who is a visionary would be persecuted,″ Jasinki said.
Not everyone agrees.
Mildred DiCola’s late husband, Tony, paid $3,000 for two Virgin Mary statues, donating one to St. John of God last year and keeping the other in their home. The latter sculpture also wept, she said, but again only when Starace was present.
″That statue stood in this house for three weeks before Father Starace ever got here, and after he left it sat here for a year while Tony lay dying,″ said Mrs. DiCola. ″Nothing happened in all that time. It’s only when Mr. Magic shows up that it cries.″
Starace, who said he is the sole agent for the sale of the Maria Rosa Mystica statues in the United States, said Mrs. DiCola ″is very bitter and she’s groping out at everybody.″
He said he made no profit on the $3,000 sale to DiCola. But Bruno Perathoner, head of the family business in Italy that produces the statues, said he sells and ships the large statues for $650 each.
Two church inquiries are under way into the statue.
Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Abramawicz is part of a three-member Chicago archdiocese panel investigating the weeping statue at St. John of God.
And in New York, Monsignior Otto Garcia, chancellor of the diocese of Brooklyn, where Starace lives with his parents, said he has asked church authorities in Rome to look into the priest’s background.
Garcia said he ″strongly recommends that no one let himself or herself be influenced by Father Starace″ pending the investigations.
The Rev. Luigi DiTalia, vicar provincial of the U.S. branch of Merciderian Fathers, said Starace was expelled from the order in 1977 for failing to tell officials he had belonged to another order in the early 1970s.
″It’s my opinion he should be stopped now before others are hurt,″ DiTalia said. ″He should be stopped not only for a liar, but for his attitude. He was so nice, a cooperative student. But once he was ordained, he revealed himself.″
Starace said he does not expect the church ever to declare the St. John of God incident a miracle, but he is not troubled.
″The miracle is not only in the weeping,″ he told The Chicago Tribune. ″It is in the sacraments of the church and the faith people have in God.″