The recent attacks on Catholic statues and monuments across the country have some devout followers questioning whether the movement to remake America includes Catholicism.
In California, Native American groups have entered into an “intersectional” partnership with Black Lives Matter allies to attempt to cancel a canonized saint. A Catholic church in Florida was recently set on fire as parishioners prepared for Mass. In other states, statues of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother have been beheaded and charred.
Vandals in Maryland recently toppled a marble sculpture of European explorer Christopher Columbus, whose 15th-century expeditions exported Catholicism to the rest of the world. After they dumped it in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “If the community doesn’t want the statue there, the statue shouldn’t be there.”
“I don’t care that much about statues,” she added, “people will do what they do.”
The apathetic response many elected officials have had to the cancel culture crowd has raised concerns over government’s commitment to protect historical monuments, particularly those paying homage to religious figures.
On Wednesday, lawmakers in Ventura, California, voted unanimously to remove a bronze statue of Father Junipero Serra from the front of city hall, along with a wooden version that has stood inside the building. The decision comes after groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento recently toppled statues of Serra in those cities, claiming monuments in his honor glorify white supremacy and cultural genocide instead.
Activists just toppled the Junipero Serra statue in Golden Gate Park here in San Francisco
Now they’re onto Francis Scott Key, slave owner and writer of the Star Spangled Banner pic.twitter.com/Ykv0hFMZvK
— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 20, 2020
Serra, the first saint canonized on U.S. soil, founded the California mission system in the late 18th century. Historians say the 21 missions along the state’s coast were set up to convert indigenous people to Catholicism, expand European territory, and colonize the land.
However, Serra’s critics believe the missions were a form of institutional racial oppression that wiped out customs and culture. They say natives were forced to perform labor for the missions, thereby propping up a new system of white supremacy that kept them oppressed.
The CBS News affiliate in San Francisco reported that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone conducted an exorcism at the location where “Black Lives Matter protesters” had toppled a statue of Serra last month.
“We are here at the site where the statue of Father Serra stood in Golden Gate Park that was blasphemously torn down,” he said. “An act of sacrilege occurred here.”
“Evil is present here. This is the activity of the evil one who wants to bring down the church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers,” the archbishop continued.
The monument was first placed at that location in 1907.
About 200 demonstrators in Sacramento celebrated the Fourth of July by toppling a statue of Serra outside the State Capitol, where it had stood for more than 50 years.
Community members gathered to remove a statue depicting one of California’s earliest colonizers, an 18th century Roman Catholic priest.“The canonization is an insult to native people and an insult to all of us in California, because Serra stands symbolically for the worst moments in the origins of this state,” said Tony Platt, of the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley.CHP will be investigating the statue’s removal as an act of vandalism and damage to state property. Be mindful of what you share online.Donate to our coverage efforts:Venmo:@BlackZebraPaypal.me/blackzebraincCash.app/$theblackzebra
Posted by Black Zebra Productions on Sunday, July 5, 2020
According to The Sacramento Bee, “protesters advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement” had converged with another group that was there demanding the removal of a Columbus statue nearby. Some participants carried signs that read “decolonize the streets.”
At the L.A. toppling, the Times reported that “the vibe was more familial ceremony than protest.”
An attendee yelled, “this is for our ancestors” just before the statue of Father Serra was pulled off its pedestal.
Doesn’t surprise me that LA leaders didn’t lift a finger to prevent this. https://t.co/SecRbAKeB5
— Nine Sisters Press (@SistersNine) June 21, 2020
According to The Orange County Register:
The demonstration was referred to as an “unmonumenting and cleansing of space” done in partnership with the Tataviam and Tongva Tribal Nations, according to a statement from members of Los Angeles’s Native/Indigenous community. The act was described as “a step forward in returning balance to these lands.”
No police intervened as this was a ceremony,” Joel Garcia, a witness who helped author the statement on behalf of the Tataviam and Tongva Tribal Nations, said. “We had some elders share songs at the start and we collectively built an altar following the removal.”
— Lexis-Olivier Ray (@ShotOn35mm) June 20, 2020
The statue was placed in the downtown L.A. area in 1932 by the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, and was later relocated.
Over the weekend, a fire erupted at San Gabriel Mission near L.A., which Father Serra co-founded in 1771. The roof of the 215-year-old church building was destroyed, and the pews below were incinerated. But the altar and walls still stand.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
Here are some photos of a fire that tore through the San Gabriel Mission this morning. The Mission was founded by Junipero Serra in 1771. #SanGabrielMission #Serra #JuniperoSerra pic.twitter.com/EZctQj4B5S
— Andrew J. Campa (@campadrenews) July 11, 2020
The L.A. Times reported:
The fire, which broke out at 4:24 a.m. Saturday and burned for nearly 2 ½ hours, came amid rising anger over California missions and other colonial monuments that for many serve as painful reminders of the nation’s racist history.
Investigators, including a regional arson task force and a representative from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were looking into whether the fire was intentionally set, officials said. (San Gabriel Fire Department Capt. Antonio Negrete) said the area where a statue of Serra had stood before being moved last week was where firefighters first saw flames, although it was not yet clear if the fire actually started there.
According to The Times, the mission “was built on the backs of the Tongva and other indigenous people, whom the friars forced into labor and coerced into converting to Catholicism and assimilating to their culture.”
Another fire erupted last weekend in Ocala, Florida, where a 24-year-old man allegedly plowed a minivan into Queen of Peace Catholic Church, doused its foyer with gasoline, then set it ablaze. The incident occurred early Saturday morning as parishioners prepared for Mass, but no one was injured.
— Orlando Sentinel (@orlandosentinel) July 11, 2020
The Ocala Star-Banner reported “photos provided by the Sheriff’s Office show extensive damage inside the church building,” and:
In an interview with sheriff’s Detective John Lightle, suspect Steven Anthony Shields said he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is not taking his medication.
Shields said that what he did was “awesome,” and he smiled and laughed while he was questioned at the Sheriff’s Office, according to an arrest affidavit. Referring to himself as the “king” and saying he was on a “mission,” Shields told the detective he has problems with the Catholic Church and made reference to several Bible passages, including the Book of Revelation.
The detective said Shields reeked of gasoline and admitted setting the church foyer on fire.
Shields is being held in jail without bond. Charges include attempted second-degree murder, first-degree arson, and eluding law enforcement.
There have been reports of vandalism at several other Catholic churches over the past week.
According to The Miami Herald, “a statue of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd that has been in the courtyard of a Kendale Lakes Catholic church for decades” was beheaded sometime Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
A statue of Jesus Christ was found beheaded and knocked off its pedestal outside of a Southwest Miami-Dade church, and the Archdiocese of Miami believes the incident was not an accident. https://t.co/2AmRgWD7LL
— WSVN 7 News (@wsvn) July 16, 2020
“This is an attack on the church,” said Mary Ross Agosta, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami. “This is not only private property it is sacred property,” she told the outlet.
Miami-Dade police and the Department of Homeland Security are investigating.
The act occurred days after a statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated outside St. Stephen Parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
This is a disturbing attack on Catholicism and religion.
Sadly, it is among a series of attacks on Catholic churches that have happened in recent days.
I hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, but I also pray that they will find their way to God as well. https://t.co/MFPHZhqn3h
— Chuck Fleischmann (@RepChuck) July 15, 2020
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) described the strike as “a disturbing attack on Catholicism and religion.”
“During these difficult times as a nation it is imperative that we come together,” Fleischmann told The Daily Caller. “It is heartbreaking to see so many incidents of hate directed at religion and the church in recent days.”
“I, like so many Americans, find strength and hope in faith and I know the power it has to help in healing. While I hope justice will be served, I pray for the perpetrators of these heinous acts and I pray for our nation to heal.”
STATUE BEHEADED: @ChattanoogaPD is investigating after someone vandalized a 5-foot tall statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the St. Stephen Catholic Church.
— WTVC NewsChannel 9 (@newschannelnine) July 16, 2020
Other monuments dedicated to the Blessed Mother have also reportedly been vandalized, including one at Saint Peter Parish in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood.
WCVB News reported that police responded to a report of a fire last Saturday night, where “an unknown suspect had set fire to plastic flowers, which were in the hands of the statue, causing the face and upper body” to be charred. According to the outlet, the sculpture was placed there to welcome soldiers back home after World War II.
— Matthew Gregoire (@BreakngNewsPhtg) July 12, 2020
Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement to The Boston Herald: “Any act of hatred and destruction towards religious figures is deeply saddening and unacceptable. Regardless of faiths, it’s our responsibility to be respectful towards others’ religious beliefs.”