A "hardworking" Indiana priest said by a colleague to rise before dawn every day to help his community may have been the object of a hate crime, and the FBI is now investigating. Merrillville Police rep Jeff Rice tells the Chicago Tribune that 64-year-old Basil John Hutsko is "definitely bruised and banged up" after someone attacked him Monday morning inside St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Church. The Rev. Thomas Loya, a longtime friend and fellow priest, tells the Washington Post the still-at-large assailant reportedly approached Hutsko from behind right after he'd finished praying at the altar (meaning Hutsko didn't get a glimpse of his attacker). The assailant then "grabbed [Hutsko] by the neck, threw him down on the floor, and immediately started slamming his head against the floor," Chief of Police Joseph Petruch tells CBS Chicago.
What the assailant said during the assault is what's leading to hate-crime talk. "The subject yelled out, 'This is for all the little kids,'" Petruch says—a possible reference to the sex scandals that continue to plague the Roman Catholic Church. Petruch says he's not sure whether Hutsko was targeted specifically—he wasn't tied to a recent grand-jury report on "predator priests"—but adds, "I have enough there to say it's a hate crime." Local clerics are baffled someone might take out their anger about the sex scandals on an "innocent man." "He's a good priest and … he's not accused of anything," the Rev. Steven Koplinka tells the Tribune. "Why attack him?" Loya tells WGN: "The stories are very ugly ... so I can see where some people might become enraged, but at the same time ... that's not going to help or solve anything." CNN reports Hutsko was taken to a hospital for treatment and released. (Read more hate crime stories.)