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In a message to parishioners, Father Ed Cimbala, pastor of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Parish in New York City, revealed that overnight on March 3 intruders entered his rectory and office, wrecking both while he was sleeping in an attack that has raised questions about the vandals’ motivations.

Apparently nothing was stolen in the intrusion. Cimbala wrote: “The detective identified the incident as a potential hate crime as there was no evidence that the intruder was looking for money.”

The incident appears to track with others in which the vandals’ main purpose appears to be to intimidate Catholics and wound their religious sensibilities.

Hostility and vandalism against churches, especially Catholic places of worship, have increased by several multiples since 2018, according to a February report by the Family Research Council (FRC).

The report found that attacks on churches are at an all-time high, occurring in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Specifically, the report documented more than 430 incidents in 2023, double the figure for 2022, amounting to an 800% increase since 2018 or an average of 39 attacks per month. These included vandalism, arson and attempts at arson, bomb threats, interruption of worship, and gun-related incidents.

According to the FRC report, from January 2018 to November 2023, there were 709 vandalisms, 135 arson attacks or attempts at arson, 22 incidents involving firearms, 32 bomb threats, and 61 incidents involving assaults, threats, and interruption of worship.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Arielle Del Turco, director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty and author of the report, observed: “Our culture is demonstrating a growing disdain for Christianity and core Christian beliefs, and acts of hostility against churches could be a physical manifestation of that.”

“When a statue of Mary outside of a Catholic church is beheaded, it is natural for congregants to feel disturbed and upset, and that may be the vandal’s aim,” the report noted. “Acts of hostility against churches can send the message — regardless of whether it is the perpetrator’s intent — that churches are not wanted in the community or respected in general. This may cause congregants or church leaders to feel unsafe.”

The symbolism of the vandalism is not lost on observers, who noted, for example, that the Christmas crèche at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish in the New York City borough of Queens was attacked twice on the same night in January.

Also during January, suspects broke a stained-glass window and attacked a cross at St. Columba Church in Brooklyn, New York.

Among the multiple acts of hostility and sacrilege was an arson attack at St. Edward Catholic Parish in Elmdale, Minnesota, that charred the sacristy and damaged the interior of the church, causing thousands of dollars in damage.

At St. John the Evangelist Parish in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a pair of 12-year-old children burned a Bible and an altar in October 2023.

In their January report on religious liberty, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also observed that “recent years have seen an alarming rate of vandalism, arson, and other property destruction at Catholic sites.” The bishops’ report said that the majority of cases occurred at churches and often involved defacement of religious icons with pro-abortion messages, such as “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you.”
The chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Religious Liberty, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, pointed out that in 2014 when the committee was first formed, vandalism was not a pressing issue but has since become a significant concern.

In their report, the USCCB indicated that “opposition to Christians’ witness against abortion continued to motivate vandalism against churches and pro-life pregnancy centers.”

The USCCB report pointedly questioned “the general failure … of the federal government to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of such attacks, in contrast with the numerous charges brought against pro-life protesters outside abortion clinics.”

In its latest report, the FRC further indicated that “many acts of hostility against churches are likely not reported to authorities and/or are not featured in the news or other online sources …Thus, the number of acts of hostility is undoubtedly much higher than the number reflected in this report.”In the case of the rampage at St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Parish, pastor Cimbala wrote that New York police were “exceptional” in their response and took evidence and a deposition from him, along with fingerprints. Among the pieces of evidence police took were a switchblade and a fake gun, Cimbala wrote, as they investigated the strange incident.

By Martin Barillas

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