(CNSNews.com) – Prosecutors in Newark, N.J. are “looking into” whether the unprovoked attack on a Catholic bishop celebrating Mass in the city’s cathedral was a hate crime.
“We have not determined a motive yet, but the assistant prosecutor handing the case is in our bias crime unit, and we are looking into it as a factor in this particular case,” a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office told CNSNews.com.
Newark Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz was attacked Saturday in the sanctuary of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart while he was celebrating an annual Mass for about 100 people to commemorate the death of late baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972 while delivering aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
The suspect, who was later identified as 48-year-old Charles Miller of Newark, “came into the church and then right after the procession, as Bishop Cruz was beginning Mass, he came up and punched the bishop” in the face, Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese, told CNSNews.
The blow was strong enough to knock the 63-year-old bishop down.
“Security was there, so officers were able to apprehend him right away,” Goodness said.
TAPintoNewark published a graphic video of the violent attack on YouTube. It shows a man later identified as Miller, wearing a hat and a white coat over a red suit, sauntering up to the sanctuary and then suddenly punching Bishop Cruz in the face.
He was closely followed by a security guard, who wrestled the suspect to the ground as congregants screamed and an altar boy cradled Bishop Cruz’ bleeding head.
Miller is “not a member of the cathedral parish,” Goodness told CNSNews, adding that “I’ve been here 18 years, and nothing like that has ever happened.”
He added that Bishop Cruz “is doing fine. He did have to have some stitches in his mouth, but he was back home in the cathedral residence on Saturday evening, and at the beginning of the Spanish Mass on Sunday, he came out and talked with the community to reassure them he was fine.
“He views [the attack] as an isolated incident and is thankful that law enforcement was able to apprehend him,” Goodness said.
Miller is currently being held in the Essex County Correctional Facility. A court hearing is scheduled on Thursday. The spokeswoman said prosecutors will ask the judge to hold him in the correctional center without bail until his trial on charges of second degree aggravated assault.