Hooded vandals looted a Roman Catholic church in Chile's capital on Thursday during a student protest and destroyed a large image of a crucified Christ, authorities said.

The vandals also removed other religious iconography from the Gratitud Nacional church, which is considered a national monument.

Student marches in Chile are usually peaceful but often end with clashes between police in riot gear and groups of vandals or self-declared anarchists who loot shops and hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Gabriel Iturra, student president at Chile's Central University, said the desecration wasn't carried out by the student movement, but by another group.

Religious authorities in Chilean said they will file a complaint with the Santiago city government, which had granted student groups authorization to march. Students are demanding a bigger role in an education reform that has been promised by President Michelle Bachelet.

"We Chileans should work to prevent this type of conduct from extending among our youth," said Interior Minister Mario Fernandez. "This can't be healthy ... for a society."