SÃO PAULO – A priest was arrested in Brazil after robbing two grocery stores and a pharmacy during an hour-long crime spree.

Twenty-seven-year-old Father Elizeu Lisboa Moreira had allegedly stopped his psychiatric treatment three weeks ago and claimed that he didn’t know what he was doing.

The robberies took place in the city of Passo Fundo, in Rio Grande do Sul State.

Moreira has been a priest in the city of Tapejara, near Passo Fundo, since he was ordained in August 2019. According to the Brazilian local news website GZH, on March 2 he went to Passo Fundo to take part in the funeral of his friend’s sister. The crimes happened after the ceremony.

Security footage showing Brazilian Father Elizeu Lisboa Moreira robbing a store in Passo Fundo, Brazil. (Credit: Civil Police of Rio Grande do Sul State.)

Moreira’s acts have been taped by security cameras. Wearing a red cap, he acted the same way in all three robberies. According to GZH, he would select some items in the store, take them to the cashier, and announce the robbery just after paying for the products. Pointing a gun at the clerk, he would take all the money from the cash register and go away. He netted a total of $250.

The crime spree took place between 5 pm and 6 pm. The shop owners reported the crimes to the police, who stopped the priest in his vehicle. Officers found with items taken from the shops and around $115. They also found the fake gun he used in the robberies. The vehicle he was driving is owned by the Archdiocese of Passo Fundo.

“We’re trying to understand why the priest acted like that. We still couldn’t find a reason. He didn’t talk much during the elaboration of the police report and looked very calm,” deputy Diogo Ferreira told the Brazilian news website UOL.

Ferreira said that Moreira told the police that he committed the crimes during “a moment of madness.”

All three victims identified Moreira after his arrest. The priest has no previous criminal record.

“In all senses, it was awkward behavior. People in the archdiocese have known him for seven years and he never acted like that,” said Archbishop Rodolfo Weber of Passo Fundo.

“Last year the archdiocesan vicar, who was his instructor during his formative years, noticed that he had changed his behavior and urged him to seek professional help. And he did. He started psychiatric treatment. But he stopped taking his medicine three weeks ago,” he told Crux.

“The Church has the canonical law, which has to be strictly followed. The first step was to remove him ad cautelam. It has the goal of protecting him as a priest, as a public figure, and as a human being. There will be a canonical trial. We don’t know how things will evolve. There’s now a profound scar and he’ll need to work very hard to heal it,” Weber said.

“It’s necessary to create the favorable atmosphere for discernment. When something very serious happens in the life of a priest, you cannot rush things. Time helps to discern and heal,” the archbishop continued.

“When there’s a scandal in the Church, there’s always a tendency of spectacularizing its portrayal in the media. I’m not saying it was not scandalous, but there’s almost a collective catharsis in a moment like this,” he added.

Moreira’s attorney Maura Leitzke visited him in jail the day after his arrest. She told GZH that he didn’t know what he was doing when he robbed the stores.

“He told me that he effectively realized what he’s done only today in the morning and asked me to apologize to the victims. He had no idea what he was doing, so much that he used the archdiocese’s car,” she told GZH news.

She said that people who meet him on a daily basis told her that he looked quieter and more aloof during the past few days.

Speaking later to Crux, Leitzke said she had spoken to the prison psychologists, and “they confirmed that he had a psychotic crisis and didn’t know what he was doing. I’m preparing a new legal petition to get him out of jail based on their testimony.”

“He has a history of depression and anxiety and the pandemic intensified those issues. In September of 2020 he began a psychiatric treatment with a controlled substance. In December he underwent a new evaluation and was told to keep taking his pills. But three weeks ago, he decided to stop taking them,” the lawyer continued.

“The people who know him consider him to be a focused and loving person. But part of the society already condemned him. Some people think a priest can’t make a mistake, that a priest doesn’t have issues,” she told Crux.