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Man Attacks Priest In Newark Church Before Sunday Mass

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A priest was attacked just before Sunday mass at a Newark church.

CBS2's Meg Baker reported suspect Shawn Swinton, 33, got aggressive with Father Edwin Leahy and punched him at St. Mary's Church.

"A young man who is known to us came into the church and attacked one of the priests whom he also knows," Father Philip Waters, the church's pastor, said.

The pastor said that he and other parishioners chased the suspect down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"It was your classical slow-speed chase. I got a couple of my church people and we followed him down Broad Street, and a couple of times he turned around and yelled at us. We kept our distance," Father Philip said.

The group finally found a police officer and Swinton, who they say suffers from mental illness, was arrested.

"He does not have any family support. This may be the closest thing he has to family," Father Philip said. "One priest spent time talking to him and helping him out."

Father Philip explained they have known Swinton for quite some time and that he attended St. Benedict's Preparatory School for a few years, but did not graduate.

Father Edwin was brought to University Hospital with minor injuries after the attack. He spoke about the broader mental health issues he says he sees every day in Newark.

"There a horrible challenge in our cities with people who struggle with variations of problems of their heart, so to speak, emotional problems," Father Edwin said.

He added there is not enough help for the mentally ill.

"The sense of community, the sense of neighborhood have all been destroyed," Father Edwin said.

St. Mary's Church said it is working with University Hospital, as well as Beth Israel, to get people help.

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