The talk of attacks on Catholic churches has mostly focused on Europe, where dozens of churches in France have gone up in flames in recent months, with the Notre Dame fire being the most horrific, and Asia, where nine Islamist terrorists killed more than 250 people, including at three Catholic churches.
But there are a rising number of attacks on Catholic churches in the United States also, including frequent decapitations of statues, arms cut off statues of the Virgin Mary, crucifixes tipped over and smashed, and red and black paint splashed on statues and church buildings. In just the last two months churches have been vandalized in New York, Boston, California, Dayton, Sarasota and Connecticut with prominent, historic Catholic churches targeted in what seem to be increasingly violent and hateful incidents.
No major media organization has taken a hard look at what’s happening, and why, and alerted Americans to this growing rage against Catholics and Christians generally.
The attempted arson attack on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York has been kept fairly quiet, Catholic League president Bill Donohue observed to BizPacReview last week, as though it wasn’t of much significance at all.
But what happened, or almost happened, is alarming.
Marc Lamparello, the 37-year-old man police say was arrested with gas, lighter fluid and lighters outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, is a philosophy professor, Boston College grad and recently the music director at a New Jersey Catholic church: https://t.co/6eKjojTpMk pic.twitter.com/mQDrprhmMZ
— Tom Cleary (@tomwcleary) April 18, 2019
A New Jersey man named Marc Lamparello walked into the vestibule of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan on April 17 carrying two 2-pound canisters filled with gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid and two lighters. His plan, the prosecutor said last week, was to “burn it down.” Lamparello, a graduate student at the City University of New York (CUNY) who has served as an adjunct philosophy teacher, had been arrested three nights before for refusing to leave a Catholic church in New Jersey, where he’d thrown himself on the floor, screaming. He’d staked out St. Patrick’s the day before going there with the gasoline and lighters, and spent a considerable amount of time planning his attack on the most prominent Catholic church in America. He’d also purchased a one-way ticket for Rome, and was to leave the next day, with a reservation for a hotel just 20 minutes from the Vatican.
In Park Slope, an upper middle-class neighborhood in Brooklyn, a man was caught on surveillance camera walking into St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on February 20, stealing the statue of St. Cisne, wrapping it in a red sack, taking it out and down the street and throwing it in a trash can on the street.
The New York Times didn’t even bother to write about it, though television stations and the New York Post did.
Several Catholic churches in the Boston area were vandalized in the last two months, with red paint thrown on a statue of the Virgin Mary at St. Gregory’s in Dorchester four times in March and April, red paint thrown on another statue of Mary at Most Precious Blood in Hyde Park and on a bench at St. Anne’s in Hyde Park. At Most Precious blood, a parishioner managed to stop a black woman who was trying to spray paint on statues inside the church. A woman matching the description has since been arrested and charged with similar vandalism at cemeteries in Boston, and reports say she is also thought to be responsible for the attacks on the churches.
A spokesman for the Boston Police Department tells BizPacReview that it was definitely “out of the ordinary” to have so many incidents involving Catholic churches.
Vandals deface a statue at St. Gregory’s in Dorchester with unknown red substance. Boston police Say statues at two other churches in Hyde Park were also vandalized last month. #wbz pic.twitter.com/pCmcAZjo1L
— Beth Germano (@BethWBZ) April 11, 2019
What was the motive? The media doesn’t seem too interested in finding out, reporting only that 53-year-old Deborah Gideon, the woman who was arrested, had worked as a nurse for 20 years.
Deborah Gideon, 53, charged with 8 counts of vandalism. Accused of defacing tributes at Mount Hope Cemetery and possibly others, including WWII monument in SB. ADA says Gideon believes she was an anointing locations with red oily substance. #NBC10Boston pic.twitter.com/MtUfZ034XT
— John Moroney NBC10 Boston (@JohnNBCBoston) April 19, 2019
In Montclair, California, a man was caught on surveillance camera using an axe or sledgehammer to cut the heads off statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint Bernadette in late February in front of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
In the video of the attack, the man can be seen attacking the statues with force and violence, appearing to act alone.
Strangely, police said they have no evidence that the decapitation of the religious statues was a hate crime.
The same person is thought to be responsible for the decapitation of a statue of the Virgin Mary at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Chino, California, in late March.
Authorities are looking for those responsible for breaking the head of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima outside St. Margaret Mary Church in Chino. https://t.co/IPZpUn3a2D
— NBC Los Angeles (@NBCLA) April 4, 2019
But that’s not all that’s happened to California churches lately.
In Watsonville, California, in February, a young woman walked into an empty church, approached the altar, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and with two hands, pushed over the crucifix, breaking it. She then went into a prayer room in the church, picked up another statue and threw it to the ground, and tore down two large pieces of religious art. She was caught on surveillance camera and was subsequently arrested.
Here is the woman, 23-year-old Jackeline Chavira, on the day of her arrest:
The figure of Christ on the crucifix had broken when it hit the ground. The church estimates that it will cost $15,000 to repair the damage to the statues, crucifix and artwork caused by Chavira.
But the list doesn’t stop there. It goes on and on, with an attack on a church after Easter Mass in Hawaii, on the island of Maui, in which vandals broke a statue of the infant Jesus and poured out holy water, replacing it with crystals and trashing the whole church.
“It was like vandalism, but with like a purpose, to send a message,” the priest, Father Roland Bunda, told the Associated Press.
It was the second time in a month that vandals had targeted the church, St. Anthony’s in Wailuku.
In Ohio, a man in a black ski mask used a baseball bat and large rocks to smash the windows of a Catholic church in Dayton on Easter Sunday or the day after.
A local news station reported that the church, Holy Family Catholic Church, has been vandalized a total of 11 times in the last six months, and that other Catholic churches in the area have also been targeted.
Here’s a screen shot, taken from the surveillance tapes, of the man holding a baseball bat just before smashing church windows:
The pastor told reporters that it had been a difficult Lent this year, with so many attacks.
In Sarasota, Florida, this week, a statue of St. Francis was destroyed by vandals. It was the fifth time that the statue had been stolen or damaged in the last ten years, according to parishioners.
In Stamford, Connecticut, the weekend of March 30 and 31, the statue of the Virgin Mary outside of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist was vandalized, with the face of Mary smashed in and the face of the baby Jesus, who she is holding, knocked to the ground.
Virgin Mary and baby Jesus statue was vandalized at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Stamford, Connecticut – The head of the baby Jesus was decapitated; one hand of the Virgin Mary was knocked off and part of her face was smashed. https://t.co/RaxVeGxEq7 pic.twitter.com/vPIeuXMkwC
— D Alex 🔴 (@D_Alex_connect) April 1, 2019
The Basilica of St. John the Evangelist was founded in the 1850s by Irish immigrants living in Stamford and the present church was built in 1875. It is the mother church of Stamford, Darien and Greenwich and offers a Solemn Mass every Sunday with Gregorian chant and polyphony.
In Indianapolis in February, a left-wing activist grabbed a statue of the Virgin Mary that was set up on a table where Catholics were praying outside a drag queen “story hour” event for children at a bookstore. Onlookers said she broke the statue off its base and tried to throw it to the ground, but that one of their group was able to catch it. Still, the statue was desecrated, with the base broken and the crown also broken.
The woman was arrested by police, who were on the scene to monitor the rainbow-flag-waving counter-protesters who had shown up outside the bookstore to counter the Catholics.
Who’s Keeping Track?
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told BizPacReview last week that she doesn’t know of any organization keeping count of acts of vandalism of churches. She said it would be necessary to call individual dioceses, of which there are 197 in the United States.
But it seems unlikely that most dioceses would have a good count, as many churches don’t even report such incidents to law enforcement, and many are never covered by local media.
In 2013, at a Catholic church in Palm Beach County, Florida, for example, the arms were chopped off a statue of the Virgin Mary just outside the entrance to the church, and while police were called, the media was never notified and the pastor of the church declined all comment. As a result, there were no news stories about the incident.
At a Catholic church in Bloomington, Indiana, a ‘Stop Abortion’ sign on the church lawn is routinely stolen, but the church does not report the theft to the police, instead just replacing the sign with another each time it’s stolen. The sign has been taken 2-3 times already in 2019, a church employee said this week.
What is it?
What is the nature of this rash of hate directed at Catholic churches, and many other Christian churches as well? It’s not “kids” — as can be clearly seen in the videos. These aren’t teenagers who are bored, irreverent, and just out for a little fun. These are adults. What’s driving their hatred? What inspired it? The obvious question to ask would be, taken together: Is this domestic terrorism? In the case of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was involved in the investigation into the New Jersey man’s plan to burn St. Patrick’s to the ground during Holy Week, just two days after the Notre Dame fire. But according to reports, it was not treated as an act of terrorism. Why not? Should it be?
The arson attacks on three historically black churches in Louisiana were the most extreme attacks on Christian churches in the United States this year. All three churches were considered a total loss, and the NAACP declared that it considers the attacks to be domestic terrorism, saying they were targeted because of the race of the congregants and because of their religion.
The arsonist, Holden Matthews, is the son of a sheriff’s deputy, and was reportedly influenced by the anti-Christian messages in a sub-genre of heavy metal music called “black metal.”
These horrible acts were widely covered in the national news media, and compared to historic attacks on black churches in the south. But the attacks on Catholic churches, albeit causing less damage, have not been grouped together and treated as a trend — a rising trend of hate against Catholics and all Christians. Maybe they should be.
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