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Authorities investigate fires at 2 Maryland churches as priest suspects abortion motive

Church fire
Firefighters respond to a fire at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, Maryland on June 10, 2022. |

Authorities are seeking information on fires that started at two churches in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., over the weekend as a third nearby church was also vandalized. Some believe there could have been a hate-driven motive for the property attacks.

North Bethesda United Methodist Church in North Bethesda was vandalized early Saturday morning. Firefighters responded to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, also located in the Montgomery County community, on early Sunday morning.

Bethesda’s Wildwood Baptist Church also experienced vandalism over the weekend.

Pete Piringer, the chief information officer for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, took to Twitter to announce that North Bethesda UMC suffered “arson & associated vandalism” causing $1,000 in damage. In the same tweet, he stated that “investigators located damaged head stones & broken wood pieces scattered” on the grounds of Wildwood Baptist Church, located just down the street from North Bethesda UMC. 

Piringer previously announced that a fire broke out at 2:15 a.m. ET at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, engulfing “several pews in [the] main church area.” In a tweet posted at 2:43 a.m. Sunday, Piringer noted that the fire was out and “no injuries” had been reported. 

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service stated that 65 firefighters responded to the fire and extinguished the fire quickly. Authorities also declared that this was the second act of vandalism targeting the church in two days, according to NBC Washington

Due to the damage, Saint Jane Frances de Chantal will hold masses at the Christopher Hall Gymnasium for the time being, according to the church’s website.

The priest, Rev. Samuel Giese, elaborated on the vandalism at the beginning of Sunday’s mass.

“Last night, our church was vandalized. People broke in, they overturned statues, they tore down the stations of the cross, they desecrated the tabernacle and tried to set the church on fire.” 

Additionally, Giese shared his belief that the attack came “because of the Church’s stand on the issue of life,” referring to the Roman Catholic Church’s outspoken opposition to abortion.

“There are those who believe that we do not have even the right to practice our faith," Giese said. 

“However, we are the Church. We are the living stones. We are the Body of Christ."

In remarks made during the Sunday morning worship at North Bethesda UMC, guest preacher Rev. Joye Jones called the vandalism “mischief,” speculating that “if it had been genuine vandalism, we would have been dealing with a lot worse stuff.”

Jones expressed gratitude that “none of the attempted fires took hold” and that “we can replace all the stuff that was in the kitchen that was damaged.”

“I want to remind you,” she added. “The church is not a building. We love our building, it’s a beautiful building, and I’m so glad that we have it. But the church is not a building.”

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, condemned the vandalism in a statement published Monday, calling the actions “completely unacceptable.”

“[T]he criminal activity that took place over the weekend does not represent the values of inclusion and equity that we are striving for in the communities of this County," he said. "We pride ourselves on our diversity of religious communities. A hateful incident against one community impacts us all.”

“Hate in any form has no home in Montgomery County,” he insisted. 

The Maryland chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement urging “law enforcement authorities to investigate the possibility of a bias motive for these disturbing incidents.”

Over the past few months, several churches and pro-life groups have been the victims of arson and other vandalism due to their stance on abortion.

A wave of property attacks was triggered in May when Politico published a leaked draft opinion of Dobbs v. JacksonWomen’s Health Organization indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The acts of vandalism, and nonviolent protests, continued in late June after the Supreme Court released its final opinion in Dobbs overturning Roe.

Michael Gryboski has released the novel "The Enigma of Father Vera Daniel." For more information, click here.

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