Alleged vandal faces hate crime charge after major damage to Denver's Catholic cathedral

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. | Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

A 26-year-old woman has turned herself in on two charges related to some $10,000 in vandalism damage to Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Madeline Ann Cramer faces one charge of criminal mischief and another of a bias-motivated crime in connection with an Oct. 10 incident, the Denver District Attorney’s Office said Jan. 13. Both the cathedral building itself and nearby statues were “spray painted with numerous specific messages consistent with anti-Christian bias,” said District Attorney Beth McCann. 

Cramer had fled to Oregon but turned herself in to law enforcement Jan. 12. According to social media video posts, she says she was baptized a Catholic but now identifies as a satanist and opposes Catholic stands against abortion. 

News photos of the vandalism showed slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL”, as well as swastikas, written in bright red spray paint on the outside of the cathedral building, sidewalks, and on the base of a statue of St. John Paul II. The pope had visited the cathedral during 1993 World Youth Day.

The graffiti was cleaned off with the help of parishioners and other volunteers.

Father Sam Morehead, rector of the cathedral, said Oct. 11 that the assailant seemed to have some “deep personal wounds and grievances” against God and the Church.

In an Oct. 2 video, Cramer said she was raised Catholic and baptized at the Littleton, Colo. St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church. However, for her, “the Catholic Church never felt right.”

She said she had recently visited the St. Frances Cabrini church webpage “and saw that they are actively supporting anti-abortion (sic) throughout the country.” 

Cramer charged that the Church “hate(s) women, you want to control women, you want to silence women.” She closed the video saying: “So stop just be honest you're not filled with love for God, for the baby, for the woman. You're filled with hate and you know it and we know it.”

Deacon Chet Ubowski at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church told CNA that Cramer is the woman who approached the altar during Mass at the church Oct. 10, just hours after she had vandalized the cathedral. During her interaction with the celebrant, she claimed to be a satanist.

Ubowski said that none of the current staff knew her or had any recollection of her, adding, “we all have her in our prayers.”

Cramer’s next appearance in court is scheduled for Feb. 14.

She has a prior conviction on a charge of obstructing police. In 2020, she was sentenced to a year of probation and 48 hours of community service. 

Denver’s Catholic cathedral had also sustained costly damage in mid-2020 amid racially charged protests against police brutality related to the murder of Minnesota man George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. At the time, the church building and rectory were spray painted with slogans referencing sex abusers or declaring "God is dead" and "There is no God." There were also anti-police, anarchist, and anti-religion phrases and symbols. 

The cathedral houses the earthly remains of Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave who converted to Catholicism and was known for her charity to Denver’s poor and her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

Archdiocese of Denver spokesman Mark Haas told CNA last year that since February 2020, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations in northern Colorado are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

In a November 2021 essay in the Washington Post, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver lamented the vandalism, arson and other destruction that has targeted Catholic property. He highlighted the Oct. 10 incident at the cathedral and noted that other religions saw their own property vandalized.

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“As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis,” Aquila said. “We pray for the end to such horrifying attacks and for God’s love to drive out the hate in the perpetrators, regardless of who they have targeted. Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis. People of goodwill, whether religious or not, must condemn and confront the societal trends that encourage attacks on houses of worship — trends that extend far beyond religion.”

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