National News

Church Vandalism on the Rise Locally Is Also Occurring Across the U.S.

Parishioners at Resurrection Church in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn caught a man spray painting a statue of Mary on Saturday, July 8. They handed him over to police, diocese officials said. The man was charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime, and then taken to a local hospital for observation, a police spokesperson said. (Photos: Diocese of Brooklyn)

WASHINGTON — The New York Catholic Churches that have recently been vandalized are not alone. Across the country in the past two months, statues of Mary have been attacked in Washington and Nebraska. In Philadelphia, stained glass windows were broken at one church and outdoor Nativity scene statues were toppled and broken at another.

The damage to a statue of Mary on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington was observed by someone praying on the afternoon of Feb. 15. The statue’s face seemed to have been struck with a hammer and surrounding light fixtures were also broken.

The statue, “Mary, Protector of the Faith,” was placed on the basilica grounds in 2000.

In a statement, Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector, said the vandalism echoes a disturbing pattern of disrespect towards religious symbols at the national shrine, recalling a previous incident from 2021 when an outdoor statue of Our Lady of Fatima was also vandalized.

“While this act of vandalism is very unfortunate, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity and pray for their healing,” the priest said.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a statue of Mary that stood in front of the building of Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska was found upside down in a trash bin on the property in early February.

Security footage shows a male suspect prying the statue from its platform Feb. 7. Local police were unable to identify the perpetrator and have listed the case as inactive.

In Philadelphia, stained-glass windows were broken at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann Feb. 19.

The shrine staff “discovered that someone had thrown a brick and stones” through the three windows, Kenneth Gavin, chief communications officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told OSV News. He said the incident was reported to the Philadelphia Police Department who are currently reviewing security footage. Initial estimate of the damage is $20,000.

Another Philadelphia Catholic Church experienced vandalism in early January. The outdoor nativity statues at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church were toppled and some were broken and scattered. An angel’s wing and St. Joseph’s head were strewn on the ground Jan. 7.

“It just made me cry. I can’t stand to see that; the desecration of the Nativity, of the Holy Family,” parishioner AnnaMaria DiPilla told CBS News.

“Our Lady’s hands were broken. It looked like a horn was broken off one of the animals. So, it was just somebody who got, I guess, a little bit upset and threw everything around and smashed it,” said the pastor, Father Matthew Phelan.

Echoing a message that other church leaders have said after discovering vandalized sacred property, he said: “It’s significant in its meaning, so it hurts a little bit, but someone is hurting worse than we are and they need our prayers.”

In the Diocese of Brooklyn, someone threw a traffic cone and broke a stained-glass window at St. Rita’s Church in Long Island City, Queens, Feb. 9 while a prayer service was taking place that evening. The incident is being investigated as criminal mischief, an NYPD spokesperson said.

St. Rita’s pastor, Father Jose da Silva, said he has had previous run-ins with the individual seen on the security footage damaging the church window.

“I have a feeling that when a person vandalizes a sacred place like a church, synagogue, or a mosque, they are giving signs to us that something very serious can happen. So, we need to stop these people,” he told The Tablet.

The priest said a statue of Mary is next to the destroyed window, and he believes that was the attacker’s intended target.

That incident happened just three weeks after a similar attack at St. Columba Catholic Church in Marine Park, when a group of people Jan. 27 broke a stained-glass window and stabbed and attempted to dismantle an outdoor 10-foot metal cross.

“If you can attack the Catholic Church, what’s to stop you from attacking other religious institutions? If you have no faith, you have no regard for the faith,” Deacon Tom Gleason at St. Columba Church told Currents News.

The U.S. Bishops’ Religious Liberty Committee has a list of 312 acts of arson, vandalism and destruction at U.S. Catholic Churches since May 2020 here:–_024

The website says these incidents include “arson, statues beheaded, limbs cut, smashed, and painted, gravestones defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language and American flags next to them burned, and other destruction and vandalism.”