Volume > Issue > The Catholic Church in the Crosshairs

The Catholic Church in the Crosshairs


By Casey Chalk | September 2020
Casey Chalk is a senior writer for Crisis and a contributor to The American Conservative.

On May 25 in Minneapolis, George Floyd, a black man, died while a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd, 46, was being arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. That tragic event sparked nationwide protests that sought to draw awareness to the problem of police brutality against African Americans. It didn’t take long, however, for protestors to direct their energies away from institutional racism in America’s criminal-justice system to a broader reckoning with American society and politics, past and present. Rioters across the country demanded — and sometimes actively and illegally participated in — the removal and/or vandalism of public monuments. Not only were monuments honoring the Confederacy targeted, so were statues of U.S. presidents (e.g., Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln) and other public figures (including, irrationally, Union Col. Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist). Amid public pressure, schools named after U.S. presidents (e.g., Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J.) rebranded themselves and announced the roll-out of new, “anti-racist” curricula. Sports teams with names evoking Native Americans changed their mascots. In this volatile cultural climate, numerous U.S. corporations issued public statements condemning racism and supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

And then the “woke” activists came for the Catholic Church. Beginning in June, mobs across California tore down statues of St. Junípero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish priest and friar of the Franciscan Order, whom they believe was an oppressor of Native Americans (in truth, St. Junípero was a tireless advocate of the indigenous peoples of the Western U.S.).

Also in June, prominent Black Lives Matter supporter Shaun King, an influential social-media personality, decried statues that depict Jesus and Mary as “European,” saying they are representative of “white supremacy,” “tools of oppression,” and “racist propaganda.” Such statues, King insisted, need to “come down.”

Immediately thereafter, statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Boston, New York, and Tennessee were vandalized, as were statues of Jesus in Florida, Illinois, and Montana. The destruction wasn’t limited to statuary. In July a possible arson attack ravaged the San Gabriel Mission, a 249-year-old structure in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, one of nine founded by St. Junípero. Also in July, a Florida man (it’s always a “Florida man,” isn’t it?) crashed his minivan into the front door of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, poured gasoline into the church’s foyer, and then ignited it — while parishioners were inside preparing for Mass.

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