U.S. Catholic Churches Endure Unabated Attacks

July 2020: A man drives a minivan through the Queen of Peace Catholic Church entrance in Ocala, Florida, dumps gasoline on the foyer and sets it ablaze as parishioners inside prepare for Mass.

Photo by Csaba Tokolyi/Moment via Getty Images

February and March 2021: Shots ring out at the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus of Mary, Queen of the Apostles in Gower, Missouri.

July 2022: Multiple fires are set inside St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church in Bethesda, Maryland. Stations of the Cross are ripped from the walls, prayer books mutilated and statues knocked down.

The incidents include shots fired, fires set, stained glass windows shattered, gravestones defaced with swastikas and hate speech.

November 2023: At Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Irwindale, California, a stained-glass window is shattered, and the building ransacked.

January 2024: Vandals wreck the Nativity scene at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Overbrook, Pennsylvania, smashing the figures of the Holy Family.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, from May 2020 through February 2024, there have been at least 315 incidents of destruction and arson targeting U.S. Catholic churches—often putting lives in jeopardy. The advocacy organization CatholicVote puts the figure at 405.

The incidents include shots fired, fires set, stained glass windows shattered, gravestones defaced with swastikas and hate speech, statues mutilated and beheaded and walls marked with red paint and obscenities.

“The vandalism we are seeing today is quickly rising to levels that haven’t been seen since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s from organized groups such as the Know-Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan,” CatholicVote president Brian Burch wrote.

From 60 attacks in 2020, the number more than doubled within two years to 143 in 2022. And in the time it took to write the opening paragraphs of this article, three more incidents occurred, necessitating CatholicVote to revise the figure on its website from 402 incidents to 405.

Of the attacks, only about one in every four resulted in an arrest.

In every state save three—Delaware, Hawaii and Idaho—Catholic churches have targets on their backs. The 47 other states and the District of Columbia have all recorded incidents of hate at their Catholic houses of worship.

Last month, a parishioner at Washington, D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception discovered the congregation’s life-size statue of the Blessed Mother smashed in the face, apparently with a hammer.

The rector of the basilica, Monsignor Walter Rossi, said, “Although saddened that acts of this nature take place, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity, and pray for their healing.”