I’ve been ordained a priest for 19 years now and have always found it a privilege to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There have been times though, when deeply troubled… and angry… people have come to confession. A few times, I must admit, I have felt a little unsafe. Here’s worst fear come true scenario:
By Rich Phillips
CNN Senior Producer
VERO BEACH, Florida (CNN) — The Rev. Michael Massaro says he has a few aches and pains, but a good night’s sleep has done him some good as he recovers from being attacked Saturday with a knife in a confessional at his church.
It was one of the most harrowing weekends in the 28 years he’s been a Roman Catholic priest, Massaro said. But it won’t stop him from hearing confessions.
“We’re at the mercy of the people we serve,” Massaro told CNN. “We can’t live in fear. God has asked us to live in trust. If it’s going to happen again, it’s going to happen again, but that’s not going to prevent me from doing God’s work.”
Massaro had just finished hearing confessions in his Florida church when he was stabbed twice in the back by a woman who later told police Massaro is the Antichrist.
“It was paralyzing, like a nightmare, and I just feel like I woke up from it. It was so quick and sudden,” Massaro said in a telephone interview.
Vero Beach police arrested Josephine Gatchell in connection with the attack. The 57-year-old suspect is being held in the Indian River County Jail. She is being held without bail.
Gatchell is scheduled to be arraigned on June 12. She has not yet been appointed a lawyer, prosecutors and the public defender said.
“She believed [Massaro] was the Antichrist and it was her duty to go there and injure him,” police spokesman John Morrison said.
Massaro said he thought he had one last confession to hear at about 12:15 p.m. on Saturday. A woman was waiting for him, apparently wanting to be be the last one in.
“I was in the confessional, putting my coat on, and felt a piercing sensation in my back left side,” the priest recalled. “I looked up and she was standing there, and I felt it again in my back. Then I realized I was stabbed and my hand was covered with blood.”
Massaro said his alleged attacker stared at him but never said a word.
“I ran and got to the car and hoped I could make it to the hospital before I passed out. I was worried about becoming unconscious. Thanks be to God that I didn’t hurt anyone driving,” he said.
An emergency room doctor told police that the knife “went through muscle, a few veins and chipped a rib,” according to an arrest affidavit. The blade missed vital organs by two to three centimeters, the affidavit said.
Massaro underwent surgery to repair the damage. Doctors used 14 staples to close the “T”-shaped wounds.
The priest feels compassion for the woman who attacked him, and he is turning the other cheek.
“We have to continue to pray to do the church’s work. To love, and most of all to forgive,” he said. “To be sure she doesn’t do this again, she needs proper medical care. No one in their right mind would do this.”
It was the second run-in with Gatchell at Holy Cross Catholic Church, according to police and church workers. She was arrested in January, records show, accused of breaking off a piece of a religious statue inside the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. She also allegedly resisted arrest and reached for the officer’s weapon.
She was confronted by Deborah True, the parish manager.
“I took it away from her and asked her why she did that,” True told CNN. “She said she did it because it was from her husband’s funeral, forty years ago, and Father Massaro stole it, and he was the Antichrist,” she said.
Massaro said he recognized Gatchell as he ran from the attack.
“As I was running away from her, I realized who she was,” he said. “She didn’t make any efforts to come after me. I was still in a state of shock.”
At the hospital, Massaro was able to pick Gatchell out of a photo lineup, police said. She was not at home when police went to question her, according to the arrest affidavit.
Later, police received an anonymous tip that she was staying elsewhere. When police arrived, Gatchell answered the door and allegedly stated, “You know who I am, and I know why you’re here.”
Gatchell told detectives that “she remembers going over to Holy Cross (church)….and stabbing Mr. Massaro,” according to the affidavit.
When asked what she stabbed him with, the suspect replied, “It was a big knife,” the affidavit said. Police say she told them that the knife was in three different places, but it was never located.
Vero Beach Police say that Gatchell appears to be a troubled woman.
“When you go back a second time, that raises more concerns. Her violence escalated the second time,” said police spokesman Morrison.
And just for the record, “I am not the Antichrist, that I know of,” Massaro said with a laugh.