Catholic sites suffered more than 100 acts of vandalism, arson since May 2020, USCCB says

San Gabriel Mission Gomez Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles visits the scene of the fire at Mission San Gabriel church, July 11, 2020. | Jon McCoy/Angelus News

The U.S. bishops’ conference on Thursday reported that churches and Catholic sites have been targeted in more than 100 acts of vandalism, arson, and other destruction since May 2020.

“These incidents of vandalism have ranged from the tragic to the obscene, from the transparent to the inexplicable. There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace,” stated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Dolan is the chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, while Coakley is the chair of the bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee. Both episcopal committees have advocated for increased funding of a federal non-profit security program, citing a rise in attacks on houses of worship.

The conference began tracking such attacks on churches in May 2020, and now says that at least 101 incidents have occurred in 29 states since then. Incidents include graffiti being sprayed on church walls, Catholic statues beheaded or smashed, gravestones desecrated with swastikas, and arson.

Last Sunday, Oct. 11, Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was vandalized with graffiti, including phrases such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL.” 

On. Sept. 29, a parish in nearby Boulder, Colorado was also desecrated with pro-abortion graffiti, which included the phrases “Jesus [Loves] Abortion,” “Bans off our bodies” and “No Wire Hangers Ever.” 

Other attacks have been more severe. In November 2020, a Catholic church in Washington state was damaged by fire in an apparent case of arson. Earlier that year, the historic Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in Los Angeles County, a church founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771, suffered a devastating fire. In May 2021, a California man was charged with arson in connection to the fire.

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged various reasons behind attacks on churches, but stated that “this destruction must stop. This is not the way.”

“In all cases, we must reach out to the perpetrators with prayer and forgiveness. True, where the motive was retribution for some past fault of ours, we must reconcile; where misunderstanding of our teachings has caused anger toward us, we must offer clarity,” he said.

The bishops’ religious freedom committee has launched a “Beauty Heals” campaign of short videos as a response to church vandalism.

In the summer of 2021, churches across Canada were discovered to be on fire in burnings deemed by police to be “suspicious” or outright cases of arson. The fires, many of which occurred on indigenous lands, happened as unmarked graves at the sites of former Catholic-run residential schools for indigenous children were discovered.

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