Attack on Indiana Priest That Knocked Him Unconscious Being Investigated As Hate Crime

A Monday morning attack on a priest from the Saint Michael Byzantine Church has Indiana police investigating it as a hate crime.

Reverand Basil John Hutsko, a Merrillville, Indiana, priest was at the altar praying when he was the victim of a surprise attack, according to The Times of Northwest Indiana. His attacker reportedly slammed his head into the floor several times until he lost consciousness.

Merrillville Police Department Spokesman Commander Jeff Rice told the Chicago Tribune the attack happened around 9:00 a.m. EDT and that Hutsko was possibly targeted because of the recent national reports about sexual abuse within the Catholic church.

The attacker reportedly shouted "This is for all the kids," as he hit the priest, Merrillville Police Department Chief Joe Petruch told WLS.

Hutsko is still trying to piece together the details of the attack. His attacker is only described as a white male who was driving a dark colored vehicle. Following the attack, medics tended to the 64-year-old at the scene and then transported him to the Methodist Hospitals Southlake Campus, where he was treated for his injuries. Newsweek reached out to the Saint Michael Byzantine Church but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Police received reports of the attack around 11:30 a.m. EDT and the Chicago Tribune reported that the department then alerted the FBI because of the language the attacker allegedly used.

"I don't believe—I know this is a hate crime. The words he used, and I believe he targeted this priest because of his faith," Petruch told WLS.

priest attacked indiana hate crime
Seminarian Mark Mergner prays the rosary as he awaits Pope Francis' arrival at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015. On Monday, a priest in Indiana was attacked in what police are investigating as a hate crime. Patrick Semansky/Pool/Reuters

Reverend Thomas Loya, of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois, has known Hutsko for over 20 years and explained to The Times of Northwest Indiana that Hutsko is one of the hardest working priests he's met.

Loya called him "dedicated" and a "completely innocent" person who had to unnecessarily suffer, but added that "God will use this for good." In the wake of the attack, Loya said there's been a lot of support for the priest, who is still recovering from the physical blows he sustained.

Police are still looking for Hutsko's attacker. Reverend Steven Koplinka, of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish in Munster, Indiana, told the Chicago Tribune that even if the attacker wanted revenge for past actions of the church, there was no reason to attack Hustko, who was not accused of anything.

"It's just like they're targeting the wrong guys, you know?" Koplinka explained. "The rest of us try our best to be good priests and unfortunately this happened."

On August 14, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury released a report about alleged sexual abuse within the five dioceses in Pennsylvania. Over 300 clergymen were named in the report as having been accused of sexual abuse and the grand jury said they found claims made by 1,000 child victims, although they believe the number is actually much higher.

While the Vatican remained silent about the report for days following its release, Pope Francis issued a letter on Monday condemning the alleged actions of the church members.

After the attack on Hustsko, other churches in the area notified their local police departments and have increased security at the front doors. Reverend Andrew Summerson, of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Whiting, Indiana, acknowledged that the church has to take responsibility for the hurt that it's caused in the past, but called it "crushing" to bear the weight of hatred. He added that justice and unbridled hatred don't have to be "mutually inclusive realities."

Rice told the Chicago Tribune that the investigation team is checking with businesses in the area to obtain surveillance footage that may have captured the perpetrator on film.