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Denver archbishop, writing in Washington Post, decries vandalism of Catholic property

Vandalism on a door of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Colo., Oct. 10, 2021. / Photo courtesy of Fr. Samuel Morehead.

Denver Newsroom, Nov 19, 2021 / 11:30 am (CNA).

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver this week decried the recent substantial and well-documented rise in vandalism and arson against Catholic property in the United States, calling the targeted destruction “horrifying.”

Writing Nov. 18 in the Washington Post, Aquila noted that the U.S. bishops have logged at least 100 instances of vandalism, arson and destruction of Catholic property nationwide since May 2020.

Incidents include graffiti sprayed on church walls, Catholic statues beheaded or smashed, gravestones desecrated with swastikas, and arson. Many more incidents have likely not been widely reported, he said. 

Aquila highlighted, in particular, a graffiti incident at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception last month, which saw a lone woman— a supporter of abortion rights— spray-paint slogans such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL” on the historic building’s exterior. 

“You would likely have to go back to the early 20th or late 19th centuries, when an influx of Catholic immigrants challenged a mostly Protestant culture, to find so much public antagonism toward the Catholic Church,” Aquila wrote. 

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says Mass for the Transitional Deacon Ordination in 2020. Archdiocese of Denver, photography: A&D Creative LLC

“As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis. We pray for the end to such horrifying attacks and for God’s love to drive out the hate in the perpetrators, regardless of who they have targeted. Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis. People of goodwill, whether religious or not, must condemn and confront the societal trends that encourage attacks on houses of worship — trends that extend far beyond religion.”

Since February 2020 in the Archdiocese of Denver alone, at least 25 parishes or ministry locations are known to have been the target of vandalism, property destruction, or theft.

Aquila pointed out that Catholics have not been the only religious group targeted in recent months. African American Protestant churches, Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and cemeteries, and temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have all suffered attacks of various kinds in the past year and a half. 

Overall, hate crimes, which include religiously motivated attacks, will likely set a 20-year record in 2021, Aquila noted. 

A desecrated statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California. . Courtesy photo.

“Respectful conversation has given way to spiteful confrontation,” he observed, “Where once people strove for change through the force of intellectual, moral and well-considered arguments, the go-to approach for many is now brute force. It often takes the form of violence or vandalism.”

Aquila wrote that where aggression is a widely accepted reaction to a difference of opinion, “Democracy cannot survive.”

“Everyone has a role in lifting America out of this crisis. Regardless of our individual beliefs, we must regain respect for the dignity of the human person,” Aquila concluded. 


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