New Wave of Vandalism and Arson Hits Catholic Churches, Cemeteries and Schools Across US
Recent weeks witnessed acts of vandalism at Catholic churches and cemeteries across the U.S. While some of the alleged perpetrators were young boys or possibly mentally ill men, police are still investigating several cases of serious damage, including arson at a Catholic school in Ohio.
Early on Feb. 24, police in the Norristown, Pennsylvania, area found vandalism at three Catholic cemeteries. They were called to St. Benedict Cemetery in Plymouth Township due to vandalism, specifically swastikas painted on headstones. They found more swastikas painted on headstones at Old St. Matthew Cemetery in Conshohocken and at St. Matthew Cemetery in Whitemarsh Township. The same paint appeared to have been used in all three incidents, the Associated Press reports.
In addition, many U.S. flags were trampled and flag holders were broken. Most of the graves hold the remains of veterans. There are also graves of Polish immigrants, many of whom fled the Nazis during the Second World War.
Last week in Framingham, Massachusetts, a city west of Boston, vandals knocked down seven headstones at St. Stephen Cemetery. Police received a report of the vandalism the morning of Feb. 20.
In October, at the same cemetery, vandals had knocked over 25 headstones for the graves of Sisters of St. Joseph.
Father Francisco Anzoategui of St. Stephen Catholic Church told Boston 25 News he worried that the incident was a “hate crime” and a sign of a possible trend of people “going into cemeteries and feeling entitled to do this kind of damage to the stones and not allowing people to rest in peace.”
St. Elizabeth Parish in the Springfield suburb of Ludlow, Massachusetts, was the site of vandalism on Feb. 22.
Two boys age 12 and 13 face a court summons vandalism of a clothing donation box, a church sign and a statue of Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin, a religious sister who founded the Sisters of Saint Anne. They spray-painted several words, including expletives, on the donation box. The church sign was spray-painted, as were the statues of a boy and a girl flanking the statue of the Mother Marie-Anne. The boys each face two felony counts of vandalizing property and one count of vandalizing a church, The Boston Globe reports.
In the southern Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio, last Saturday morning, firefighters responded to a fire set in the basement of St. Anthony of Padua School after a maintenance worker discovered a fire. The Feb. 20 fire caused fire damage to several classrooms on the school’s first floor, significant structural and fire damage in the basement, and smoke damage throughout the building, a Parma Fire Department representative told News5 Cleveland.
Fire officials told WKYC the fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage. They believe the fire was intentionally set. The Blue Ribbon Arson Committee has offering a reward up to $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest of any persons responsible.
Classes were canceled at least through next week. School officials said they continue to work with their insurance company, which is expected to cover the damage. They have not set up any official efforts to raise funds, but the community is supporting teachers who may have lost personal items and teaching supplies.
Several weeks before, the school’s St. Anthony of Padua statue was knocked off its pedestal in an act of vandalism, though Parma Police said the incident appears unrelated to the fire.
On Feb. 17 in Milledgeville, Georgia, a vandalism attack at Sacred Heart Catholic Church knocked over two statues of angels and damaged them.
Father Young Nguyen, the church pastor, heard noises from the vandalism but when he went outside he did not see anyone but discovered the damage. The statues were valued at about $2,500 each, 13 WMAZ News reports.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, four stained-glass windows at the Shrine of the Little Flower, also known as St. Therese of the Infant of Jesus Parish, were broken around 2am on Feb. 14. Trash was strewn around the building and there was some damage to the church’s clay roof tiles
Father Vincent Paul Chavez, the parish pastor, said there was “serious vandalism” by “a person, a little one of God, a homeless person off the streets most likely with behavioral health issues,” KRQE News reports.
The suspected vandal was arrested. He identified himself as "Jet Doe," 31, but authorities could not confirm his identity. The criminal complaint indicates that Doe told police he broke the windows after his girlfriend told him that there were dead bodies and meth labs inside the church, KOB4 News reports.
“This has happened in the past. Other beautiful churches downtown have been vandalized and we have a serious behavioral health crisis here in New Mexico,” the priest said. “Daily, we deal with assaults here to ourselves and to our property.”
Chavez said there would be a $126,000 fundraising effort to protect the 36 stained-glass windows, which were built in France in 1954.
Vandalism at churches and other sites appears to have increased in recent years, amid the pandemic, political protests and civil unrest. Many crimes against churches appear to be committed by the mentally disturbed or juvenile delinquents, though some crimes appear to be motivated by anti-Catholic animus or support for abortion.
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