Catholic voters are worried about vandalism and attacks targeting churches and pro-life pregnancy centers, regardless of how often they attend church. A new poll sponsored by EWTN found that more than 4 in 5 Catholic likely voters are very or somewhat concerned about the attacks.

“They have a right to be concerned,” Mary FioRito, a Catholic commentator and Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA July 11. “I believe in the last 18 months alone there have been 120 or more documented cases of vandalism against Catholic churches, including statues being beheaded. There was a case in Brooklyn where a tabernacle was stolen. Really violent attacks.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website has counted 152 incidents against churches since May 2020, including arson, beheading of statues, and church and cemetery vandalism.

“We as Americans fought for the rights for everyone to be able to practice their religion without intimidation,” FioRito said. “It's shocking; this should not happen in this country. It is not what we stand for.” 

The state of Catholic opinion was the focus of a RealClear Opinion Research survey, sponsored by EWTN Global Catholic Network. It reached 1,757 Catholic likely voters June 15-23. It claims a 95% credibility level of plus or minus 2.58 percentage points.  

Among the topics of the poll were vandalism and attacks targeting churches. 84% of Catholic voters said they were very or somewhat concerned, including 61% of whom are very concerned.  

Pro-life pregnancy clinics which seek to help pregnant women have also been the focus of vandalism and physical attack. About 81% of Catholic voters said they were very or somewhat concerned about this phenomenon, with 56% very concerned.

Another 75% of respondents said they were very or somewhat concerned about vandalism and tearing down statues of famous Catholics, with 51% very concerned. On the topic of overall anti-Christian sentiment, about 72% said they were concerned, with 44% very concerned.

Survey respondents came from a wide range of self-described Catholics. About 68% of respondents described their Catholic faith as important to them. Aside from weddings and funerals, 40% of respondents said they attend church weekly or more, while another 40% attend church “monthly to yearly.”

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“It's actually very edifying to see the numbers are that high, even among people who don't regularly practice their faith,” FioRito commented.

The survey comes after multiple incidents of vandalism and even several church burnings that are still under investigation. Some incidents appear linked to the Dobbs v. Women’s Health Supreme Court decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and similar precedents mandating legal abortion nationwide.

In FioRito’s view, these crimes and acts of violence should be acknowledged and not downplayed. They constitute “a pattern of criminal behavior.” 

“It is a pattern of targeting people for their beliefs and for their good works,” she said. “These instances are very real.  This is not people pearl clutching or making things up. These are real incidents that have happened.”

FioRito voiced concern that questionable criticism of pregnancy centers from political leaders has helped drive violence.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking in downtown Boston on June 29, claimed that the centers are “deceptive outfits” that unethically seek to persuade women not to seek abortions. She lamented that there are three pregnancy centers for every abortion clinic, and she has introduced federal legislation to address what she says are their deceptive practices.

Two Worcester pregnancy centers subsequently faced vandalism from perpetrators who appeared to self-identify with Jane’s Revenge, a purported group which has posted internet threats encouraging vandalism.

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Some of this vandalism has come with “very explicit threats,” FioRito said.

“‘If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you’, you can’t interpret that in any way other than a direct threat,” she said, quoting a phrase popular among vandals.

FioRito said many Catholic or pro-life organizations have written to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to ask his help in the protecting churches and pro-life pregnancy centers.

“As Catholics the way we start everything is with prayer,” she said.  Catholics who feel moved to do so should write to Garland, President Joe Biden, and their state attorney general in order “to say this is not acceptable,” she suggested.

“This is not acceptable and there has not been a loud enough condemnation of this kind of behavior here,” she said.

“We can’t live in a free society, if places that are giving out diapers to poor pregnant women are being vandalized and bombed. What on earth is going on here?” FioRito asked. “I think that we have to show a little bit right of righteous indignation. I think that is absolutely called for under the circumstances.” 

FioRito, who has served on the board of a pregnancy center in the Chicago area for more than 20 years, worries that people will be hurt.

“We have two maternity homes where we have moms with little babies or moms who are pregnant are living. If someone throws a Molotov cocktail like happened in Nashville, or, you know, firebombs the center like it happened in Buffalo, our moms and children could be hurt,” she said.

She found it “very, very troubling” that women “should be dissuaded from going to a place where they're going to get alternatives that they themselves are freely seeking.” 

According to FioRito, people who work in pregnancy centers as “the nicest people you'll ever meet in the entire world” who “tend not to be very political people at all.” 

“They are just really more interested in direct service to women and children,” she said. Even though pro-life legal organizations or state legislators prompted the Dobbs decision, these workers are “taking the brunt of this anger.”

“It's just completely unacceptable behavior, and I can’t imagine that any person of goodwill would condone this sort of menacing that's being done to the pregnancy centers.”

FioRito also noted the anti-Catholic sentiment in the behavior of Illinois Sen. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat who posted to Facebook a picture of a caricature of a bishop holding a gun to the head of a pregnant Statue of Liberty. 

“She had to be sort of forced to apologize, but it was a non-apology apology, sort of thing, and she is still sitting in her office,” said FioRito. “The Archdiocese of Chicago put out a very strong statement, as did the Metropolitan Council of Churches … yet the state Senate President, who is a Catholic, said nothing publicly and didn’t reprimand her.”