California Catholics Under Attack

Vandals get off with a misdemeanor charge for defacing a statue as police looked on.

Below are clips of the original story that ran in the Wall Street Journal online and in print June 2, 2023. Read the entire article.

By Salvatore J. Cordileone

“History never repeats itself,” Mark Twain is supposed to have said. “But it rhymes.” Consider the American Catholic Church over the past two centuries.

In 1834, a frenzied mob attacked and burned to the ground a convent of Ursuline nuns outside Boston. The act was the culmination of years of anti-Catholic preaching and aggression toward the church’s property. None of the firemen present intervened, and some reportedly joined the riot. Later that century, the Know Nothing Party emerged to suppress the rights of German and Irish Catholic immigrants, fearful of a Catholic conspiracy to take over the country.

Not long after that, the Ku Klux Klan began to terrorize black Americans, Catholics and Jews. In 1921 an enraged Klansman fatally shot Father James Coyle after the priest celebrated the wedding of the gunman’s Catholic-convert daughter to a Puerto Rican man. The killer was acquitted at trial by a Klansman judge and Klan-filled jury.

Our nation is now struggling to come to terms with its history of racism. Yet universally ignored is its long, deep and sordid history of anti-Catholicism. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reports that “at least 260 incidents”—attacks on church property—“have occurred across 43 states and the District of Columbia since May 2020.” The behavior runs the gamut, from arson to spray-painting, beheading and toppling statues, to defacing gravestones with swastikas and anti-Catholic messages. Arrests in these cases, and especially prosecutions, have been extremely rare.”

“In October 2020, protesters trespassed onto the property of Mission San Rafael carrying paint, tools and rope with the intention of desecrating and destroying a beloved statue of St. Junípero Serra. Five perpetrators were later charged with felony vandalism.

Yet on May 25, the Marin County district attorney’s office decided to resolve the case through “an innovative restorative justice solution”—reducing the charges to a misdemeanor if the defendants were willing to say “I’m sorry” and pay an unspecified sum toward restitution, along with other minor stipulations. In other words: Mea culpa, nothing else to see here.

Catholics believe in contrition, but we also believe in justice. This is neither. These five committed a felony, which was witnessed, recorded and widely publicized. Damage to the saint’s statue—which was sprayed with red paint and dragged to the ground—is estimated as high as $40,000, the parish told me.

Worse yet, officers from the San Rafael Police Department saw the crime in real time and decided to “observe the demonstration and not intervene” for fear of escalation. Never mind that what transpired was hardly a “demonstration.” Parish leaders told me that the police violated a promise they made with the church to step up if protesters trespassed on the property.

A felony charge is the least reparation that can be made to Catholics in the Bay Area who are deeply disturbed by this attack. The district attorney has instead given the signal that attacks on our houses of worship and sacred images may continue without serious legal consequence.

History teaches that when we don’t treat religiously or racially motivated crime seriously, we will see more and worse aggression. Already we are witnessing what such laxity has wrought across America. Transgender activists on social media have threatened heinous violence against Christian “transphobes” who don’t subscribe to their ideology.”