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Photo courtesy of Diocese of Knoxville / The statue of Mary at St. Stephen Catholic Church was vandalized last weekend.

A statue of Mary at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Chattanooga was vandalized over the weekend, with the head removed.

Manuel Perez, pastor at St. Stephen, discovered the broken statue on July 11. The church reported the incident to police that day. The five-foot-tall statue was valued around $2,000, according to Chattanooga Police. Since the damage was done to a church, the incident could be investigated as a hate crime.

Jim Wogan, director of communications for the Diocese of Knoxville, said the incident is concerning.

"We don't know if this was the targeted desecration of a sacred statue and our Catholic faith, or some kind of misguided prank, but it hurts," Wogan said in a statement. "For whatever reason we are living in a very chaotic time, and anger seems to be the default setting for people."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn, called the vandalism a "disturbing attack on Catholicism and religion" in a tweet Wednesday.

"I hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, but I also pray that they will find their way to God as well," Fleischmann said on Twitter.

Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville said the incident is part of a string of attacks on Catholic parishes throughout the country. Similar acts of vandalism against statues of Mary have been reported in New York and Massachusetts in recent days.

The damaged statue in Chattanooga has since been taken down. No other damage was found on church property, Wogan said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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