Threats Against Priests Prompt Fort Worth Diocese Warning

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    403101 05: The collar of a priest is seen at St. Adalbert Catholic Church March 29, 2002 in Chicago, IL. Good Friday's "Way of the Cross" services is celebrated by Roman Catholics all over the world. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

    Priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth have been cautioned to watch out for their safety after two local churches received threatening phone messages.

    Diocese spokesman Pat Svacina said the two messages were left on church answering machines about 30 minutes apart on Monday, Aug. 8. One message was left at a Catholic church in Fort Worth, the other at a church in Arlington.

    "We get all kinds of calls --we're are accustomed to a variety -- but these were just so unusual and of close proximity of one another that the leadership of the diocese thought it was best to notify the parishes," Svacina said.

    The diocese said it has contacted the Fort Worth and Arlington police to investigate.

    The diocese would not say which churches specifically received the calls, but a Fort Worth police report indicates one of the threats was called in to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Throckmorton Street.

    Arlington police received a report of a threat left on a voicemail at Catholic Church of St. Mary on North Davis Drive on Monday. No specific person was named.

    Svacina said one of the messages could be considered a death threat against priests in general. The other mentioned priests abusing children. It was not clear if the messages were left by the same caller. 

    Church officials have issued a warning to all priests in the diocese "out of an abundance of caution," Svacina said. 

    At some churches, groups of parishioners have been tapped to provide extra eyes to watch out for priests at Mass. Others are asking select parishioners to help monitor who is coming in and out of churches.

    "I think it's sad in this day and age, you have to be escorted to and from work," said Priscilla Serna, a parishioner at St. Maria Goretti in Arlington. "It's sad."

    According to a police report detailing the call to St. Patrick's, the caller asked to speak to priest and was transferred to the cell phone of an on-call priest.  When the priest did not answer, the caller left a voice mail in "a calm and clear voice" stating that "when he was a boy, he was molested by a priest." According to the report, the caller then said "he will be coming to the church and is going to kill a priest."

    Theresa Zuelch, a St. Maria Goretti parishioner, said she was shocked by the threats.

    "It hit me hard, and I got tears in my eyes that someone could be in that need of help that they could make a threat like that," she said.

    A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Dallas said it had been made aware of the calls and that security officials for the diocese are reaching out to local law enforcement to see if any additional precautions should be taken.

    NBC 5's Ellen Goldberg contributed to this report.