DENVER — Their houses of worship have been torched and hit by gunfire, their statues smashed and defaced repeatedly in the past 18 months, but Catholics are having a hard time getting the powers that be to notice.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reported 93 incidents as of Aug. 24 in 28 states since May 2020, including “arson, statues beheaded, limbs cut, smashed, and painted, gravestones defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language and American flags next to them burned.”
That figure may be low. C.J. Doyle, Catholic Action League executive director, said the list left out 12 of the 15 incidents during that period in Massachusetts but did include a Molotov cocktail thrown last year at a church door in Weymouth.
“Looking at the underwhelming response to these crimes, I am beginning to understand how Coptic Christians in Egypt feel,” said Mr. Doyle, adding that none of the attacks resulted in arrests.
At a time when the focus on hate crimes against racial, ethnic and religious groups has never been higher, conservative Catholic leaders are frustrated by what they describe as a lack of national media and political attention to the alarming surge in anti-church attacks.
Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, chalked up the disconnect in large part to the church’s well-known opposition to abortion, a stance at odds with the Democratic Party and liberal movement, as well as many media figures.
“Can you imagine if the type and number of attacks we’ve seen against Catholics occurred against mosques or Jewish places of worship?” he asked. “The response would be overwhelming, and yet there’s practically silence, in part because the media does the bidding of the pro-abortion movement.”
Last weekend, St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colorado, was vandalized with pro-choice graffiti that police described as a bias-motivated crime.
Worshippers arrived for Mass “to find abortion graffiti defacing the church sign, sanctuary entry doors, garden sign, and the walls surrounding the building,” the police department said in a Monday statement.
The spray-painted messages included “My body my choice” and “Bans off our bodies.” Vandals also sprayed over the word “Life” on a “Respect Life” garden stone to make it read, “Respect bodily autonomy,” as shown in photos posted by police.
“The actions of these individuals are not representative of the residents of Louisville, nor do they reflect the mission of our city,” Louisville Police Chief Dave Hayes said in a statement. “The true representation of the community in Louisville are those that surrounded St. Louis Catholic Church and helped remove the graffiti Sunday after Mass.”
The episode led to speculation that the Texas law banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at six to eight weeks of gestation, may have been responsible for stirring up anti-Catholic animus.
“We do expect this to continue and likely to increase as a result of legal progress being made by the pro-life movement,” Mr. Burch said.
He and others have urged President Biden, America’s second Catholic president, to speak out against the attacks, as he did in May in condemning violence against Asian Americans when he signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.
“We commented last year that it was shocking that then-candidate Joe Biden did not comment on the rise of vandalism against Catholics, especially since he was running as a devout Catholic,” Mr. Burch said. “And, of course, he hasn’t said anything since.”
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan recently sought to draw attention to the vandalism against the church by citing examples in New York, including graffiti at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and smashed statues at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish.
“These troubled months in our city and our country have been made even more painful by the rise in hate crimes. African Americans, Asians, Islamic, and most worrisome, our Jewish neighbors, have been targeted in a nasty, ominous way,” Cardinal Dolan said in a June 2 op-ed in Catholic New York. “So have we Catholics.”
The incidents have not lacked drama. A Florida man was charged in March with a federal hate crime for driving his vehicle into the front doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, pouring gasoline in the foyer and lighting it on fire.
In January, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Houston was found peppered with a half-dozen bullets.
In March, the St. Charles Parish School in Spokane, Washington, was set on fire with the Rev. Esteban Solar asleep inside the building. He escaped unharmed after being awakened by police. A suspect has been charged with arson, according to The Spokesman-Review.
Benedictine nuns in rural Missouri found in March two bullet holes in the bedroom wall of the Mother Abbess after hearing gunfire the night before, marking the third time that the abbey had been shot at this year, according to The Pillar.
In the most costly attack, an arsonist set a fire that gutted the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles County, causing millions of dollars in damage. A person was charged but later released, although prosecutors plan to refile charges, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.
The Black Lives Matter protests after the May 2020 death of George Floyd fueled a spike in activism that included vandalism against a host of targets, including churches and religious icons, but Mr. Burch said the attacks have not subsided.
The FBI’s hate crime data for 2020 shows 74 bias incidents against Catholics, fewer than the 134 anti-Islamic hate crimes and far fewer than the 951 against Jews.
The statistics also show that most episodes of property damage against Catholics involved attacks on churches, while most of the anti-Semitic damage occurred at “unknown” or “residence/home.”
An interfaith group that included the Catholic bishops asked Congress in June to increase funding from $180 million to $360 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, citing the “increasing extremism and antagonism towards different religious groups.”