Repeated attacks on US Catholics raise questions among bishops
It was after a pair of Catholic churches caught ablaze last summer, one in Southern California and another in Florida, that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to start documenting and tracking vandalism at Catholic sites across the country.
The two fires occurred on the same morning: 11th July, 2020. One destroyed the rooftop of the historic San Gabriel Mission – the fourth of a series of missions across California that Father Junipero Serra founded during the Spanish colonisation era. The other ignited in Queen of Peace Catholic Church as parishioners prepared for Mass in Ocala, Florida.
Nobody was injured, but Aaron M Weldon – of the USCCB’s Office of Religious Liberty – said the fires were “the impetus for us to start monitoring these sorts of events”.
Since then, the USCCB has tracked more than 105 incidents of vandalism of Catholic sites in the US, including arson, graffiti and defaced statues. The organisation has logged news reports of such incidents dating back to May, 2020, but it doesn’t yet have a detailed breakdown that categorizes the different kinds of vandalism.
In California, statues of Father Junipero Serra have been toppled in protest of what activists have called the enslavement of Native Americans. A monument for “babies whose lives are ended by abortion” was knocked over at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bloomingburg, New York. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, was recently marked with graffiti that read “Satan lives here” and included references to “child rapists”.
While these incidents point to specific issues – the colonisation of Indigenous people, the church’s stance on abortion, the priest abuse scandals – Weldon said there isn’t always messaging left behind at vandalised Catholic sites. He said damaged statues, such as monuments to Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, make up a large portion of the vandalism they’ve documented.