Catholic churches and religious statues across the country were the target of vandalism, terrorism, and potential arson this last week as tensions concerning the removal of historical statues continue to rise.
In Boston at St. Peter’s Parish Church, parts of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary were scorched after being lit aflame. According to some at the Boston Fire Department Fire Investigation Unit, “an unknown suspect had set fire to plastic flowers, which were in the hands of the statue, causing the face and upper body of the statue to be burned.”
“Whoever is responsible for the desecration of the Holy Mother’s statue is clearly a troubled soul,” Secretary for Communications & Public Affairs for the Archdiocese of Boston, Terrence C. Donilon, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Mary represents all that is good and pure in our world. We have confidence in local law enforcement to investigate this matter. We pray for the person or persons responsible.”
The CLA Executive Director C. J. Doyle also addressed the recent attack, calling for a hate crime investigation.
“The object and timing of this attack is suspicious. The number and frequency of these incidents have increased in recent years, particularly in southern New England. Without jumping to conclusions beforehand, a hate crime investigation is, in this case, certainly warranted,” he said.
In Brooklyn, a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens also suffered an attack when an individual smeared it with the word “IDOL.”
Fr. James Kuroly, rector and president of Cathedral Prep, told Catholic News Agency that the desecration of the 100-year-old statue was an “act of vandalism and hatred.”
“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” said Fr. Kuroly. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”
In Ocala, Florida, police arrested a man who lit the Queen of Peace Catholic Church on fire and crashed into the church with his minivan. According to the Marion County Sheriff’s office, Stephen Anthony Shields “poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish’s front door” while parishioners gathered inside for mass.
According to the Catholic News Agency, the police charged him “with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest” after “Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication” and that his attack was his “mission.”
“Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear,” said Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods. “My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace. I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside of us during this investigation.”
A man in Ocala, Florida drove a van into a Catholic Church and set it on fire while people were inside, but you’d never know because the MSM isn’t reporting on it. This is an act of terrorism that needs to be at the front of the headlines. Why is hate against Catholics ignored? pic.twitter.com/xxjVjhfFHL
— Liberty Hangout (@LibertyHangout) July 11, 2020
In Los Angeles, a fire destroyed most of the historic San Gabriel Mission which was founded by St. Junipero Serra.
Archbishop José Gomez, the 5th and current Archbishop of Los Angeles, announced the fire on Twitter and asked for prayers from St. Junipero Serra.
“Our beloved #SanGabrielMission, founded in 1771, devastated by fire before dawn. St. Junípero Serra, pray for this land that you helped to found,” he wrote.
Our beloved #SanGabrielMission, founded in 1771, devastated by fire before dawn. St. Junípero Serra, pray for this land that you helped to found. pic.twitter.com/aX0X4qCvJ7
— Abp. José H. Gomez (@ArchbishopGomez) July 11, 2020
The cause of the fire is currently unknown, but is being investigated by the San Gabriel Fire Department. According to Capt. Antonio Negrete of the department, “recent vandalism throughout the region regarding Father Junipero Serra” also sparked an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The LAist reports that “the mission recently removed its bronze Serra statue from public view as a precaution” because “anger over the mission founder has led to questions as to whether the blaze that destroyed the mission’s roof and much of the interior was purposely set.”
A news release by the Catholic Action League condemned the recent attacks and called the case of arson in Boston a “lawless and malicious act of violence intended not only to destroy a venerable representation of the Mother of God, but, it would seem, to inflict needless pain and grief on innocent people who never did the malefactor any harm.”
Doyle also added that he believes that the timing of these incidents is not a coincidence and that the church deserves the defense of public officials.
“Given the climate of the country, where violent mobs of extremists are, increasingly, aggressive and emboldened in destroying historic monuments and religious iconography, public officials must remain vigilant in safeguarding the constitutionally guaranteed right to the free exercise of religion, which, necessarily, includes the right of churches to have their property protected,” Doyle said.