Bishops urge Catholics to 'meet hatred with love' after churches vandalized

CathedralPrepBlessedMother Statue of Mary outside Cathedral Prep School and Seminary, Queens, New York. | Diocese of Brooklyn

Leading U.S. bishops have released a joint statement on Wednesday, July 22, responding to the recent spate of vandalism against Catholic churches across the United States.

"In the last few weeks, we have witnessed, among other things, one church rammed with a car and set on fire, as well as statues of Jesus Christ and of the Virgin Mary defaced or even beheaded. An historic mission church has also been badly damaged by fire, and the cause is still under investigation," said the statement, co-signed by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who leads the USCCB's religious liberty committee, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, the chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

The archbishops said that the attacks on churches, regardless of the motivation behind the perpetrators, "are signs of a society in need of healing."  

"In those incidents where human actions are clear, the motives still are not. As we strain to understand the destruction of these holy symbols of selfless love and devotion, we pray for any who have caused it, and we remain vigilant against more of it," said the archbishops. 

"Our nation finds itself in an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict. The path forward must be through the compassion and understanding practiced and taught by Jesus and his Holy Mother," they added. 

The archbishops said that there was a need to imitate Jesus and "respond to confusion with understanding and to hatred with love." 

Recent weeks have seen acts of vandalism and destruction at Catholic churches across the United States, including arsons, decapitations, and graffiti. In addition to the most recent attacks, in the last two weeks statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary have been attacked in Florida, Tennessee, New York, and Colorado.

Other Catholic religious statues in California, Missouri, and other places have been toppled or vandalized by protestors, including several of St. Junipero Serra.

While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts, including those against the images of the Virgin Mary and Christ, have not been identified.

At least some of the vandalism appears to be explicitly motivated by anti-Catholicism. 

In Brooklyn, the word "IDOL" was painted on a statue of Mary outside of a seminary and high school. In upstate New York, a monument to babies who died by abortion was toppled. 

Authorities at the local and federal level are investigating the acts of vandalism, including as possible hate crimes.

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