A slew of Catholic churches from the Southeast to West coasts was torched and vandalized over the weekend. Law enforcement has launched a full-scale investigation to determine if the recent incidents are connected to protests targeting symbols and statues.
One man in Florida deliberately plowed his vehicle into the Queen of Peace Catholic Church as it was preparing for Saturday morning mass. The man climbed out of his car, poured gasoline in the foyer, and set the church on fire. The suspect, then, hopped back into his car and drove away. He was eventually caught, however, and taken into police custody.
Police charged Steven Anthony Shields, 24, with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest. Shields told investigators that his actions were “awesome” and that it was all part of his “mission.” In fact, he even smiled and laughed as he confessed to his crimes.
According to the police, Shields has problems with the Catholic Church. He suffers from schizophrenia and had not been taking his medication.
Despite the damage, the Queen of Peace Catholic Church still held mass on Saturday and Sunday.
Around 4 a.m. Saturday morning, arsonist(s) also set a church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on fire. San Gabriel church, which was undergoing renovations in preparation for its 250th anniversary, caught fire. Local police are still investigating the incident.
Law enforcement is taking into consideration the recent defacing of monuments of Roman Catholic priest Junipero Serra. Many view Serra as a symbol of oppression to indigenous activists. Therefore, there may be a possible connection.
“This will be another box that they’re going to check off,” Capt. Antonio Negrete of the San Gabriel Fire Department said. “It’s a tragic loss for our city. It’s our city identifier.”
Archbishop José Gomez took to Twitter to post a few words of encouragement following the incident.
“Friends, what would St. Junípero tell us this morning? I remember his beautiful little prayer: “Let us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children.”
Boston police are currently investigating a reported fire outside St. Peter Parish where they found a burnt statue of the Virgin Mary. The arsonist(s) set the flowers in Mary’s hands ablaze, damaging the statue’s arms and face.
Pastor John Currie said the city erected the statue decades ago in memory of World War II veterans. He said he was “shocked” at the discovery.
Additionally, vandals defaced a second statue of the Virgin Mary in New York City on July 10. The Diocese of Brooklyn said police are still investigating the incident in which someone sprayed the word “IDOL” on a statue located at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens.
Rector and president of the school, Fr. James Kuroly, called the vandalism “an act of hatred.”
“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” Kuroly said. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”