There were church burnings this month, and statues of the Blessed Virgin were vandalized. You wouldn’t know it, though, if you depended on the local media for your news.
When I searched the internet for “Catholic churches vandalized” near “the newspaper of record,” or used the terms “Catholic relics destroyed” near “papers for which I do not write,” the only thing that came up were cases from almost ten years ago. And there was scant mention in the national media as well.
So I will talk about hate crimes, the kind that rarely gets the type of attention they deserve. The following incidents happened in July:
– Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Marion County, Florida, was set on fire after a man named Steven Anthony Shields (why do they always have three names?) rammed his vehicle into the vestibule and poured gasoline in the foyer;
– The Church of San Gabriel in Los Angeles caught fire under suspicious circumstances, right before its 250th anniversary;
– A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which had been set up decades before in honor of World War II veterans was set on fire outside of a Boston church;
– A similar statue of Mary was vandalized outside of Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens, N.Y.
And in June, the statue of Father Junipero Serra was forcibly pulled down from its pedestal in the park bearing his name in Los Angeles. Serro was a Franciscan friar who is credited as the principal architect of the California Mission system when that part of the country was under Spanish colonization. Native Americans have long argued that Serra was behind the forced conversion of indigenous to Catholicism, and that the terms of that conversion were often brutal.
While I strongly oppose the removal of that piece of history from its legitimate location, just as I condemn the attacks on statues of Christopher Columbus in Philadelphia and other historical figures, and while I definitely place this trend to “cancel the culture we don’t like” in the category of vandalism, there is an argument to be made that controversial figures can be expected to attract this sort of attention in contentious times.
What is not legitimate, what is not acceptable and what is not something that the media should be ignoring with the blithe attitude of “what the public doesn’t see won’t hurt them” is the deliberate, obvious, coordinated and (to my mind) condoned attacks on my faith. As someone once told me, anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice.
There are those who object to the term “anti-Catholicism” when it comes to anything that smacks of a hate crime. They prefer the sanitized phrase “anti-clericalism,” which acts as a form of gaslighting. In other words, if a Catholic such as myself dares to raise the specter of sectarian bigotry, we are generally told that it’s not the Catholics that people hate, it’s the people and the policies of the church. This is commonly employed when those self-styled “cleric-haters” criticize the church’s position on same-sex marriage, or abortion, or most commonly when they want to describe my faith as a training ground for pedophiles. “We don’t hate Catholics,” they say with a straight face. “We hate what they stand for.”
Well I am here to say that when you burn a church to the ground, you are setting me on fire. When you paint vile words on a statue of the Blessed Mother, you are smearing those words onto my own skin. When you throw rocks through the windows of a chapel to destroy the jewel-like stained glass, you are bruising my body. And when you are a member of the media, and you look away as this is happening but make sure to point out every offense perpetrated against every other group that has you as its free P.R. director, you are ignoring my righteous cries and my pain.
Just as swastikas painted on tombstones at a Jewish cemetery are evidence of bigotry, and just as the vilification of women in hijabs is bigotry, and just as crosses burning on an African-American’s lawn is bigotry, so is the torching of my spiritual home and the defiling of my mother’s image.
The difference is that I need to scream louder to get noticed. And that, in and of itself, is the most insidious sort of prejudice.
Copyright 2020 Christine Flowers. Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at [email protected]