The arson is the latest in a spate of attacks against Catholic churches in Florida this year, and across the country.
On the morning of July 11, a man crashed a minivan through the front door of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida. He then set the church aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.
Police arrested Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida later that day. He has been charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest.
Also in July, an as-yet unidentified assailant beheaded a statue of Christ the Good Shepherd at a parish in the Archdiocese of Miami, in Southwest Miami-Dade County.
In 2019, the co-cathedral of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was damaged by fire, with several of the chairs in the sanctuary set ablaze using an accelerant. A 32-year-old man with a history of mental illness was later arrested in connection with the arson.
Elsewhere in the US, several Catholic statues and church buildings have been vandalized this year, including several statues in California of St. Junipero Serra that have been pulled down by mobs.
On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens. The next day, local police in Boston confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter's Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage.
Also on July 11, an arson attack gutted the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Serra.
In September, a man broke at least six windows, beat several metal doors, and broke numerous statues around grounds of a Louisiana parish in a late-night vandalism attack that lasted over two hours. The assailant has since been arrested and confessed to the crime.
Also in September, a vandal entered the sanctuary of St. Patrick's Cathedral in El Paso, Texas and destroyed a nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
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.
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