A criminal investigation focusing on three Mormon missionaries who were photographed defacing a Catholic shrine has been dropped after the Catholic bishop in the San Luis Valley of Colorado where the incident happened urged forgiveness.

According to reports in the Denver Post and the Pueblo Chieftain, the three missionaries had been shown in photos posted on the Internet at the Shrine of the Mexican Martyrs at the Chapel of All Saints on a butte overlooking the town of San Luis.

The photographs were taken in 2006 and showed the men preaching from the Book of Mormon at the shrine’s altar, pretending to offer sacrifices at the site, and holding a head that apparently had been broken off a statue there.

The newspaper reports said Costilla County sheriff’s investigator Cpl. Scott Powell said the investigation had just gotten under way when Bishop Arthur Tafoyo wrote him a letter.

“I ask that we as Catholics, who believe in the forgiveness of Christ, will ourselves forgive, and pray for the young men who showed such a lack of tolerance and understanding,” Tafoya said in the letter. “I especially ask the members of the San Luis community to help the healing process by removing any anger that exists in their hearts.

“This is the time that we can show our love of Christ by forgiving and loving our neighbors,” he wrote.

In a letter to the Chieftain, Tafoya said Mormon church officials had contacted him with an apology for the damage. The church’s earlier apology letter, issued shortly after the vandalism was discovered, said respect for other faiths is a “cardinal tenet” for them.

Mormon officials said they would impose their own punishment on the three.

The damaged statue depicted Manual Morales, a leader of Mexico’s National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty. It is at the outdoor shrine near the Sangre de Cristo Church.

A Mormon church official earlier visited the town of San Luis to appear before the town board and issue an apology for the actions of the three men, who were not publicly identified.

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