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NEW YORK – An Oct. 10 vandalism of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colorado, was the 100th incident of destruction to Catholic sites in the U.S. since the U.S. Bishops Conference began tracking the phenomenon in May 2020.
“These incidents of vandalism have ranged from tragic to the obscene, from the transparent to the inexplicable,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development in a joint Oct 14 statement. “There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace.”
The Oct. 10 incident at the Denver cathedral included satanic and hateful graffiti spray painted on the exterior wall and door. The next day, the 101st incident took place at St. Peter Italian Catholic Church in Los Angeles, California, where paint was splattered over the exterior.
Incidents have occurred in 29 states over the 16-plus months the USCCB has used the tracker.
A closer look into the records show that about 40 incidents involved destroying a statue or monument. Another 20 or so involved using graffiti or paint to deface a church site.
There’s been an ebb and flow of incidents in the time the USCCB has tracked them. The two months with the most incidents, according to the USCCB tracker, are May 2021 and July 2020, when there were 9 and 11 incidents respectively.
In May 2021 three of the incidents took place in Brooklyn, New York. All three included the destruction of religious statues, and one also included a burned American flag. Four of the other incidents in Staten Island, New York, Narragansett, Rhode Island, Riverside, California and Waltham, Massachusetts also included the destruction of religious statues.
In July 2020, the incidents were in different parts of the country including New Haven, Connecticut, Miami, Florida, Elmhurst, New York. These included the destruction of religious statues and hateful graffiti painted on the outside of churches.
Another July 2020 incident was arson to the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in California that destroyed the roof, pews and more. In May 2021 John David Corey, 57, was charged with setting the blaze.
The first documented incident was on May 6, 2020, when a pulpit, altar, and statue were damaged at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Casper, Wyoming.
There hasn’t been a month without any incidents according to the USCCB tracker.
“In all cases, we must reach out to the perpetrators with prayer and forgiveness,” the two USCCB chairman said. “True, where the motive was retribution for some past fault of ours, we must reconcile; where misunderstanding of our teachings has caused anger toward us, we must offer clarity; but this destruction must stop. This is not the way.”
Dolan and Coakley added the nation’s leaders need to condemn the attacks.
“We call on our elected officials to step forward and condemn these attacks,” the chairman said in the statement. “We thank our law enforcement for investigating these incidents and taking appropriate steps to prevent further harm.”
“We appeal to community members for help as well,” they continued. “These are not mere property crimes – this is the degradation of visible representations of our Catholic faith.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg