Clergy at Christ Church in Londonderry say they have forgiven two men who were jailed for causing £75,000 worth of damage to the church.
Harry Duffy and James Anthony Kennedy were both jailed for two years and eight months at Derry Crown Court on Tuesday after they broke into the church in September 2017.
The men, who are drug and alcohol addicts, smashed their way in through a 19th century stained glass window.
During a search of the church police officers discovered that one of the men had defecated inside the church's boiler room, and excrement was smeared on the church organ and on pages which had been rippled from a Bible.
Following sentencing, Rector of Christ Church, Archdeacon Robert Miller, and the parish's Pastoral Director, Rev Katie McAteer, said they forgave the two intruders.
“We are thankful that this matter has now been dealt with by the courts and grateful to Judge Philip Babington for the sensitive manner in which he has dealt with what has – for our parishioners – been a most distressing case," a statement read.
“It is of some comfort to us to learn that, in Judge Babington’s words, there was no ‘religious or sectarian aspect’ to this offending. Indeed, since the break-in, we in Christ Church have been blessed and encouraged by the sympathy and support shown to us by well-wishers from right across the community – most notably by our closest neighbours in St Eugene’s Roman Catholic Cathedral."
The statement said Archdeacon Miller and Rev McAteer took "no pleasure" in the custodial sentences handed down to the two offenders but added that everyone should be "accountable before the law".
“On behalf of the parishioners of Christ Church, we now consider this matter closed. As Rector and as Pastoral Director, we forgive Harry Duffy and James Kennedy for what they did and will be holding them in our prayers," the statement added.
"We hope the two men can learn from this incident and that they will succeed in getting their lives back on track.”
Duffy (25), from Elmwood Terrace, and Kennedy (24), from Glenside Park, had previously clear records. They admitted burglary and stealing items including a crystal decanter, a surplice and a set of reader’s robes. None of the stolen items were recovered.
They also admitted damaging furnishings and fittings in the church, including the organ.
In total they caused an estimated £75,000 worth of damage inside and outside the church building, for which the diocesan insurers paid £58,500.
The court heard both men have mental health disorders.
Judge Philip Babington said the pair's behaviour was "quite disgraceful, aggravated as it was by taking place at and within a place of worship”.
He added: “Some of the damage caused was both shocking and disgusting.”