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Bishops search solutions in vandalism of church buildings and Catholic symbols

(RNS) — It was after a pair of Catholic church buildings caught ablaze final summer season, one in Southern California and one other in Florida, that the U.S. Convention of Catholic Bishops determined to start out documenting and monitoring vandalism at Catholic websites throughout the nation.

The 2 fires occurred on the identical morning: July 11, 2020. One destroyed the rooftop of the historic San Gabriel Mission — the fourth of a sequence of missions throughout California that Father Junipero Serra based throughout the Spanish colonization period. The opposite ignited in Queen of Peace Catholic Church as parishioners ready for Mass in Ocala, Florida.

No one was injured, however Aaron M. Weldon — of the USCCB’s Workplace of Spiritual Liberty — stated the fires have been “the impetus for us to start out monitoring these kinds of occasions.”

Since then, the USCCB has tracked greater than 105 incidents of vandalism of Catholic websites within the U.S., together with arson, graffiti and defaced statues. The group has logged information studies of such incidents relationship again to Might 2020, however it doesn’t but have an in depth breakdown that categorizes the totally different sorts of vandalism.


RELATED: Man charged in San Gabriel Mission blaze that destroyed rooftop of historic church


The USCCB has dedicated a page on its web site itemizing information tales of vandalism by month.

In California, statues of Father Junipero Serra have been toppled in protest of what activists have referred to as the enslavement of Native People. A monument for “infants whose lives are ended by abortion” was knocked over at Our Woman of the Assumption Church in Bloomingburg, New York. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, was lately marked with graffiti that learn “Devil lives right here” and included references to “little one rapists.”

Demonstrators put together to drag down a Junipero Serra statue on June 20, 2020, in downtown Los Angeles at Father Serra Park. Photograph by Erick Iñiguez

Whereas these incidents level to particular points — the colonization of Indigenous individuals, the church’s stance on abortion, the priest abuse scandals — Weldon stated there isn’t all the time messaging left behind at vandalized Catholic websites. He stated broken statues, similar to monuments to Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, make up a big portion of the vandalism they’ve documented.

“While you’re speaking a couple of statue being smashed, it’s sort of laborious to know what’s happening. There’s probably not a message there,” he stated. “Did they single out the Catholic Church, or is it merely that our symbols of faith are so seen that they make a straightforward goal?”

“We’re sort of engaged on studying extra about what’s happening,” Weldon stated.

By an interfaith effort, the USCCB has been advocating for extra funding from FEMA’s nonprofit safety grant program to enhance safety measures of their buildings. “As a result of it’s not simply Catholic church buildings that need to cope with this,” Weldon stated. Jewish homes of worship, Weldon stated, “face this worse than we do.”

New FBI stats show the variety of hate crimes (8,263) reported in fiscal 12 months 2020 was the very best since 2001. Hate crimes motivated by non secular bias accounted for 1,244 offenses, and greater than half (683) have been antisemitic.

Whereas solely 73 have been anti-Catholic hate crimes, that represents an annual improve since 2013. There have been 64 anti-Catholic hate crimes reported in 2019, and 51 in 2018, based on the FBI information.

The Rev. John Molyneux, pastor of San Gabriel Mission, said the parish community had been “rocked by this incident,” during a press conference Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in San Gabriel, California. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina

The Rev. John Molyneux, pastor of San Gabriel Mission, stated throughout a press convention Tuesday, Might 4, 2021, in San Gabriel, California, that the parish group had been “rocked by this incident.” RNS photograph by Alejandra Molina

To Brian Levin — director of the Middle for the Research of Hate & Extremism at California State College, San Bernardino — simply the sheer quantity of Catholic websites could make these areas simple targets if somebody desires to make a press release towards Catholicism or faith generally.

“Catholics are probably the most represented non secular religion within the U.S.,” Levin stated.

However there’s a mixture of points that might be contributing to the multi-year rise in anti-Catholic hate crimes, Levin stated.

The truth that President Joe Biden is Catholic “makes Catholicism extra lined typically, in addition to conflicts inside the explicit religion,” Levin stated.


RELATED: US Catholic bishops pledge to assist country’s review of past Indigenous boarding schools


Moreover, the Catholic church has made its personal headlines these days. Unmarked graves have been found at various residential colleges operated by Catholic orders or dioceses in Canada. And within the U.S., bishops and different Catholics have sought to limit Communion to pro-choice politicians over their stance on abortion.

Mix that with the unfold of spiritual conspiracy theories, an increase in non secular skepticism and closures because of COVID-19, and a Catholic Church is likely to be the closest place for a “would-be offender” to strike, Levin stated.

Security camera footage of an individual defacing the face of a Virgin of Guadalupe mural painted on tiles at St. Elisabeth Catholic Church in Van Nuys, California, on April 21, 2021. Video screengrab

Safety digicam footage of a person defacing the face of a Virgin of Guadalupe mural painted on tiles at St. Elisabeth Catholic Church in Van Nuys, California, on April 21, 2021. Video screengrab

In Colorado, the Archdiocese of Denver is preserving its personal tally and has documented a minimum of 25 parishes or ministry places that, since February 2020, have been targets of vandalism, property destruction or theft, stated Mark Haas, a spokesman with the archdiocese.

This has included damaged home windows, broken and defaced statues, graffiti, tried arson, stolen non secular objects, break-ins and thefts, Haas stated. Greater than 10 incidents have occurred within the final six months.

“A few of these incidents have been clearly focused on the Catholic Church, however not all of them,” based on a press release offered by Haas. “The quantity might be larger as a result of some minor incidents aren’t all the time reported.”

Haas stated among the incidents the diocese has tallied haven’t been included within the USCCB’s report, together with a theft that gave the impression to be “profit-motivated.”

 “We proceed to wish for the conversion of those that perform acts of desecration towards our church buildings, statues and spiritual symbols,” the assertion learn.


RELATED: One year later, advocates pressure for charges to be dropped in toppling of Serra statue


However to a handful of protesters in Northern California who took down a Serra monument final 12 months on Indigenous Peoples Day, doing so “was an act of therapeutic,” Morning Star Gali, a member of the Ajumawi band of the Pit River Tribe, advised Faith Information Service in a previous interview. Gali has advocated for the protesters, often called the “Indigenous Peoples 5,” who’re going through felony vandalism costs.

“This is a chance for them to assist rectify problems with the previous and the violence that the church is liable for,” stated Gali, challenge director for Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone has applauded the costs as a “breakthrough second for Catholics.” It doesn’t seem that every other protesters who’ve toppled or vandalized Serra statues have confronted any sort of costs.

Paint and graffiti are removed after St. Peter's Italian Catholic Church was vandalized on Oct. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photo by Sipriano Padilla

Paint and graffiti are eliminated after St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church was vandalized on Oct. 11, 2021, in Los Angeles. Photograph by Sipriano Padilla

In downtown Los Angeles, St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church was vandalized on Oct. 11 with graffiti studying, “STOP COLONIZING OUR LAND” and “Land Again.” Pink paint splattered the entrance of the church, which was established in 1904. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

The Rev. Fernando Cuevas Preciado, who pastors St. Peter’s, stated he believed the individuals liable for the vandalism, which occurred on Indigenous Peoples Day, have been “utilizing the church to protest.”

“It wasn’t one thing towards the Catholic church,” he stated. 

To Preciado, it seems the vandalism was seemingly associated to Columbus Day and what Christopher Columbus, who was Italian, represents. Whereas Columbus was Italian, his voyages have been sponsored by Spain.

Preciado stated vandalizing a church or monument shouldn’t be a type of protest. 

“To me this can be a signal of intolerance that we’re seeing as a society, an absence of values,” he stated. ”I consider in dialogue and concord.”

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