There have been at least 95 reported incidents of vandalism of Catholic churches across the United States since May 2020, according to a report by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty.
Incidents include arson, the destruction of statues, and the defacement of church buildings and gravestones with swastikas and anti-Catholic language.
“Whether those who committed these acts were troubled individuals crying out for help or agents of hate seeking to intimidate, the attacks are signs of a society in need of healing,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Maimi, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote in a July 2020 statement.
“In those incidents where human actions are clear, the motives still are not. As we strain to understand the destruction of these holy symbols of selfless love and devotion, we pray for any who have caused it, and we remain vigilant against more of it,” the bishops wrote.
The latest incident included in the report took place Sept. 5. Vandals graffitied a door and two signs at a Catholic church in Louisville, Colo., about 20 miles northwest of Denver.
Incidents occurred across 29 states.
The report referenced 12 incidents in California since May 2020, including the defacement and removal of a statue of St. Junipero Serra in October 2020, and arson in July 2020 that destroyed parts of a 249-year old mission church in San Gabriel.
The report also cited 14 incidents in New York, including anti-Catholic and anti-police graffiti on the exterior of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in January.
In some cases, dioceses have requested increased security following vandalism.
The Diocese of Brooklyn requested increased police presence in May, after two incidents of vandalism at church properties in three days. A statue depicting the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus was discovered vandalized outside the diocesan administrative offices, with Christ decapitated. A crucifix display outside a parish was also found toppled over, with an American flag outside the rectory burned. Both incidents were investigated as potential hate crimes.
“We are definitely concerned that there is a pattern of hate crimes against Catholics,” said Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, the moderator of the curia for the diocese, in a statement following the attacks.
“Our nation finds itself in an extraordinary hour of cultural conflict,” Archbishops Wenski and Coakley wrote.
“The path forward must be through the compassion and understanding practiced and taught by Jesus and his Holy Mother. Let us contemplate, rather than destroy, images of these examples of God’s love. Following the example of Our Lord, we respond to confusion with understanding and to hatred with love.”