'Occupy' movement damages San Francisco Church’s property
A pile of bricks on the roof of the building with graffitti defacing the walls of a courtyard in the background. Credit San Francisco Police Dept.
A pile of bricks on the roof of the building with graffitti defacing the walls of a courtyard in the background. Credit San Francisco Police Dept.
By Benjamin Mann
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.- San Francisco's archdiocese is assessing damage to a Church-owned building intended to be a revenue stream for scholarships, following its takeover by “Occupy” activists who were arrested April 2.

“The building that they were in has a great deal of damage,” archdiocesan spokesman George Wesolek told CNA on April 3.

He described damage to the walls of the property belonging to the Sacred Heart Cathedral School – as well as “particularly offensive graffiti” left on the building's facade, reading “(expletive) the police pigs!”

“The police also found, on the roof of the building, a lot of piles of bricks that they had brought up there, and also cans of paint,” Wesolek said. “It looked very much like they were going to resist any police activity by throwing those objects.”

Police removed the “occupiers” Monday afternoon, arresting around 75 people.

“There was no violence, thank God,” Wesolek said. “There was a lot of shouting, but other than that, nothing else.”

On April 1, the activists took over the Church property, located near the archdiocesan headquarters, stating their intention to turn it into a homeless shelter. A self-identified Occupy spokeswoman said there was “no reason why any building should be vacant when people have no housing.”

But as Wesolek explained, this seemingly vacant building – previously used for high school classes – was intended to be leased to tenants, as a means for the archdiocese to raise money for scholarships given to low-income children.

“The Occupy activists were under the impression – or at least that's what they were saying publicly, in their news conferences – that these were vacant buildings, implying that they were abandoned buildings, and therefore they were going to take them over in the name of the community.”

“Well, that's not the case at all,” the archdiocesan spokesman explained. “These are buildings bought by the archdiocese for the use of the cathedral high school, which they're very near. They were used up until about a year ago, for classes.”

“The next thing that we had proposed to use them for was to lease them out to appropriate folks, and then have a revenue stream – which would help the school and the educational ministry there, but also help the many students who need tuition assistance.”

“About 35 to 40 percent of students at that particular school need tuition assistance, because they come from low-income families,” Wesolek said, explaining the need for the revenue that would have been provided by leasing the building.

Now, a portion of that money is likely to go toward repairing the damage left by Occupy San Francisco, so that the buildings can be restored to a usable condition.

The buildings, Wesolek said, “weren't abandoned. They weren't neglected. They were there for the things that we do, as the Catholic Church, in our mission … for the poor, and the homeless, and the marginalized.”

“So it's very odd that Occupy San Francisco would take over this building and demand that they use it for some sort of homeless shelter – as if it wasn't being used already for something good, and something for people who really need it.”

Largely dormant following protests in late 2011, the loosely-organized “Occupy Wall Street” movement remains sporadically active in the U.S. and abroad. Its activists have called for checks on corporate power and a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Wesolek suggested that the San Francisco group's decision to seize and damage Church property – which could ultimately end up diverting money from its social services – showed a “disoriented” movement lacking a clear purpose.

“The Occupy movement, I think, is running out of steam – especially when they start attacking and using people like us and other folks who actually have a mission to the poor. It's at cross-purposes with what they sometimes say is their mission.”

“The Catholic Church, through its parishes and its institutions, provide about one third of the social services in the city of San Francisco, to the poor, the vulnerable, and the homeless,” Wesolek noted.

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