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NEW YORK – With a California District Attorney reducing the charges against five vandals who desecrated a St. Junipero Serra statue in 2020, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco fears others will now believe they can carry out similar attacks and not face serious legal consequences.
“Anti-Catholicism has a long and ugly history in this country,” Cordileone said in a May 25 statement. “Now, with this decision, the Marin County District Attorney has given the signal that attacks on Catholic houses of worship and sacred objects may continue without serious legal consequence.”
The case at hand dates back to October 2020, when the five vandals defaced a statue of St. Junipero Serra on the property of St. Raphael Parish, coating it in red spray paint and tearing it off its foundation. St. Raphael Parish is located in San Rafael, California, about 20 miles north of San Francisco.
Serra is an 18th-century priest and missionary, whose legacy has been debated in recent years.
Initially, Marin County District Attorney Lori Frugoli charged the perpetrators with felony vandalism charges. On May 25, Frugoli’s office announced that those charges were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, with “restorative justice” stipulations that must be completed.
The five charged were: Ines Shiam Gardilcic, 40; Victoria Eva Montanopena, 29; Melissa Aguilar, 36; Mayorgi Nadeska Delgadillo, 36; and Moira Cribben Van de Walker, 25.
In a May 24 letter to Frugoli after the archdiocese’s attorneys informed Cordileone of the decision to lesser the charges, he both defended Serra’s legacy, and pointed out that regardless, the fact remains that a felony crime was committed.
“I readily acknowledge, and have done so numerous times, that horrible atrocities have been perpetrated against the indigenous people of California,” Cordileone wrote. “While an honest reading of the historical record would clear Junipero Serra of perpetrating such atrocities – indeed, he gave his life to defending the native people of our land – the actual historical record is beside the point.”
“This point is, a felony crime was committed,” he continued.
St. Raphael Parish did not respond to a Crux request for comment.
Frugoli, announcing the lesser charges, said a result to the case was reached.
“It is the District Attorney’s Office’s goal to achieve a fair result on all cases, and I strongly believe that justice was served on this one,” she said.
“While this issue has raised emotions because of the sensitivities around religion, community boundaries, and historic inequities, the fact is that a resolution through accountability has been reached through restorative justice and that is a victory for this community,” Frugoli said.
The restorative justice actions those charged must take include: Pay monetary restitution to the church to repair or replace the statue, complete 50 hours of volunteer work, apologize in writing as part of the official court record, participate in a community forum with a historian, and stay off church property.
In his May 25 statement, Cordileone also argued that the reduction to the charges wouldn’t have happened if the vandalism occurred against another religious congregation or group, saying “if the same kind of offense had been committed against another religious congregation or group, it would almost certainly have been prosecuted as a hate crime.”
In the letter, Cordileone took issue with the process that led to this result, as well. He claimed that the mediator of the discussions between the archdiocese and perpetrators kept the archdiocese shut out of the conversation, and “was treating the perpetrators as if they were the victims.”
He added that he has supported a restorative justice approach, and does not want the defendants to go to prison.
“We are now approaching three years since this crime was committed, and we are still waiting for justice. I still believe reconciliation is better, but if reconciliation cannot be achieved through restorative justice then the defendants must be justly punished, short of serving time,” Cordileone wrote.
“Keep in mind here that an undeniable felony was committed in public, in front of the police, and caught on camera,” he continued. “What you propose is not a punishment that fits the crime.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg