A 38-year-old man told police that he was making a religious statement Sunday morning when he decapitated a statue of Jesus Christ outside a downtown Charleston church.

Charles Jeffrey Short of Beltline Boulevard in Columbia was arrested near Sacred Heart Catholic Church as he carried a sledgehammer in his backpack, an incident report stated.

When an officer asked him about the vandalism at 888 King St., Short said he had hammered a statue six or seven times because the Ten Commandments bar the public display of any image depicting people, according to the report.

With Short being held Monday in lieu of $2,130 bail on a charge of malicious injury to real property, the police were looking into whether he was involved in a similar assault on a church statue days earlier. He was expected to appear Tuesday morning in municipal court.

He had one prior arrest in South Carolina, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. Police in Forest Acres near Columbia charged him in 2009 with simple assault and malicious injury to personal property, but a judge acquitted him in a trial.

After Short's most recent arrest, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston declined through spokeswoman Maria Aselage to comment on his religious sentiment.

Detectives were investigating whether the vandalism was related to a similar scene found at the same church Friday morning, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

In that episode, someone lopped off two heads and some hands in a statue depicting Christ and a child, a police report stated. It was made of marble and had been outside the church since 1996, Aselage said.

A church official estimated that it was worth about $5,000, according to the report.

He told the police that the statue had been intact Thursday night. When he showed up early Friday, though, the damage had been done.

But when it happened again around 5:45 a.m. Sunday to a different statue, two people quickly flagged down a patrol officer.

They said a man who was walking eastward on the nearby Huger Street had just knocked off the statue's head, the report stated.

An officer confronted the pedestrian, who was later identified as Short, and asked where he had been. He pointed at the church, according to the report.

Short gave permission to search his backpack, where the officer found the Kobalt sledgehammer coated with a white residue.

After the officer's second attempt at explaining his right to remain silent, Short explained what he had done and why he had done it, the report stated.

He had battered the statue a half-dozen times "because the second or first commandment states to not make an image of a male or female to be on display to the public," the officer wrote in the report.

Aselage, the diocese spokeswoman, said the 6-foot concrete statue had shown the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, a devotion representing Christ's love for humanity.

While Aselage would not discuss Short's alleged statement, the Catholic Church has long been a target of criticism when it comes to its use of statues.

One of the Ten Commandments orders followers not to make any "graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above," according to the Book of Exodus in the King James Version of the Bible.

But to Charlotte resident Brian Kennelly, who was visiting Charleston last weekend, the site at the downtown church was disturbing. It drove him and his young son to buy flowers, which they placed at the statues' feet.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.