At least four Catholic churches in four states were vandalized over the weekend in a string of attacks that have authorities wondering whether religious icons and statues are next to be targeted by anti-racism and “anti-fascist” protesters.
Fox News reports that churches in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Florida were all targeted by vandals, and several historic churches suffered major damage in arson attacks.
“A man in Florida plowed his vehicle into the Queen of Peace Catholic Church as it was preparing for morning Mass on Saturday, poured gasoline in the foyer, and then set the building on fire before driving off, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office reports,” according to Fox.
He was later arrested and told officers that he was on a “mission” to attack the church. He later admitted to suffering from a severe mental illness.
In Los Angeles, the historic San Gabriel Church, which was about to turn 250 years old, was targeted in an arson attack. In Boston, a statue of the Virgin Mary — a monument to veterans of World War II, displayed in the courtyard of a Catholic church there — was torched and desecrated.
Fr. John Currie leans over to touch the Virgin Mary statue at St. Peter's Parish which was burned by vandals today on July 12, 2020 in Boston, MA. This is so sad 😔🙏 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” – Jesus Christ @forthemartyrs pic.twitter.com/xYxxCTWcsF
— The Catholic Connect Foundation (@catholiccaring) July 13, 2020
A second statue of the Virgin Mary was desecrated on Sunday, this time in New York City, at the Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in Brooklyn.
“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,” Fr. James Kuroly, the school’s rector, told Fox News. “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.”
Massive protests, which cropped up after George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police, quickly gave way to riots, and since Memorial Day, a number of major cities have suffered large-scale violence. Places like New York City, Seattle, Portland, and Washington, D.C., have all played host to demonstrations that ended in arson, confrontations with police, and destruction of property.
Many of those protests are now targeting monuments. Initially, demonstrators were focused on statues of generals and other notable figures who supported the Confederacy during the civil war, but the movement has since added the Founding Fathers, former presidents, and several Catholic saints to their list of targets.
Although there does not appear to be a clear connection between the nine incidents from over the weekend, authorities are concerned that, particularly in light of statements made by activists like Shaun King identifying religion and religious figures as a tool of “white supremacy,” religious institutions may also be targeted.