National News

More Than 275 U.S. Catholic Churches Attacked Since 2020, New Study Says

WASHINGTON — More than 275 attacks on Catholic churches have taken place since 2020, according to a report updated on Jan. 28 by CatholicVote, a political action group based in Wisconsin.

The group — tracking attacks on Catholic churches across the country since the spring of 2020 — reported 281 acts of violence ranging from protests, graffiti, smashed windows, and other disruptions.

These attacks have taken place in 42 states and the District of Columbia. States with the most attacks include California (42), New York (28), and Pennsylvania (19).

The report notes that at least 124 of these attacks have occurred since the draft of the Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked last May, indicating the court’s plan to overturn its Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

In response to the leaked document and the court’s decision in this case, several church buildings across the country were defaced with spray painted messages criticizing the Catholic Church for its pro-life stance.

The brick walls outside Guardian Angel Church in Brighton Beach were defaced the day of the court’s Dobbs decision last June, with chalk graffiti messages about the separation of church and state and urging to keep “Laws Off My Body.”

Father Sergiy Emanuel, the parish administrator, discovered the messages that afternoon and immediately called police.

Recalling the incident with Currents News on Jan. 24, he said the first thing that comes to his mind with this type of vandalism is that those who do it “must be mentally sick.”

He suggested that more parishes install security cameras to catch the perpetrators on tape, but he also urged Catholics to pray for those who are doing these actions, stressing that Jesus urged his followers to love one another but also to “love your enemies.”

Praying for those who are angry with the church “could change minds,” he said.

While some of the recent attacks on churches nationwide have included thefts, the majority have primarily involved property damage. The CatholicVote report also noted that arrests have been made in only about 25% of these cases.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty has similarly been tracking incidents of attacks of church properties since 2020. On the USCCB website, it described such attacks as “arson; statues beheaded or with limbs cut, smashed, and painted; gravestones defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language and American flags next to those gravestones burned; and other destruction and vandalism.”

The committee listed eight such attacks from Jan. 5-17 of this year, with incidents ranging from broken windows to a cross set on fire on a church lawn in New Jersey and an altar smashed with a sledgehammer and reliquaries stolen in Arkansas.

These findings do not come as a surprise to Msgr. David Cassato, former pastor of St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst. In 2021, when he was pastor there, an outdoor crucifix was toppled and an American flag that had been outside the church was set on fire.

A man was arrested in the case and charged with one federal count of criminal mischief as a hate crime.

The priest told Currents News on Jan. 24 that it was “just horrific” to see the toppled crucifix with the face of Jesus on the ground. He also said he knows the vandalism that happened at his parish is part of a broader trend occurring at other churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn and across the country.

Along with St. Athanasius and Guardian Angel Church, 8 other parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn were also listed in the CatholicVote report for being vandalized since 2020.

A statue of baby Jesus was also vandalized outside the offices of the Diocese of Brooklyn and an outdoor statue of Mary was spray painted at Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary.

In Brooklyn, a historic tabernacle was stolen and Eucharist was desecrated at St. Augustine Church in Park Slope, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was toppled at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace and a statue of Mary was vandalized at Resurrection Roman Catholic Church.

In Queens, statues of Mary and St. Thérèse of Lisieux were vandalized at Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic Church and a Nativity scene was destroyed at St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

Also, a newly dedicated statue of St. Bernadette was toppled at St. Michael’s Church in Flushing, graffiti was spray painted on the exterior of Immaculate Conception Church in Jamaica, and a statue of Mary was hit by a car and run over at Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann Parish.

“I think there’s a real anti-religion attitude out there,” Msgr. Cassato said, adding that many people have the view of “let’s get rid of religion.”

Msgr. Cassato, who is now vicar for Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn, also pointed out that there is “a lot of disrespect for the church (and) for the clergy,” which he has seen “more and more.”

“We’re living in a very challenging time” for the church and religion, he added.