The Omaha World-Herald reports on a number of recent church thefts. Most of these thefts generally occur in South America or Europe. They are not as common in the United States:
Since last May, thieves have taken works from St. Cecilia Cathedral and First Covenant, All Saints Episcopal, Immaculate Conception Catholic, St. Thomas More Catholic and St. Joseph Catholic Churches.
The thefts don’t tie into any particular national or global trend. Most of the works don’t have a large resale market.
So they’re tough to figure out.
John Wilson, head curator of Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, said art thefts from churches are widespread in South America, Italy and other places abroad.
“But why is it happening in the middle of America, in Omaha? I don’t have a clue,” he said.
It’s not happening in other Midlands museums or churches.
Anna McAlpine, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Museums, said galleries across the country have not been seeing thefts of religious art.
Representatives of the Catholic Archdioceses of St. Louis and St. Paul-Minneapolis and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., say they haven’t heard of thefts of art from their churches.
Omaha may be a surprising spot, but churches aren’t. They are often notorious for having lax security.
“Churches don’t see these artworks as investments,” Wilson said. “They hang the paintings for spiritual purposes, and sometimes they may be a little too trusting.”
The criminals aren’t drawn to the works because of spirituality, said Bob Spiel, a Chicago-based private investigator, security consultant and former art theft and forgery investigator for the New York City branch of the FBI. He has worked dozens of cases similar to those in Omaha. The motivation is always the same.
“It’s always about money,” Spiel said. “Someone is looking to turn the painting around for some quick cash.”
It doesn’t have to be lots of money. The value of the artworks snatched from Omaha churches ranges from about $500 to the $100,000 painting of the Virgin Mary at St. Cecilia Cathedral.