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Congressman urges Justice Dept. to investigate violent attacks on Catholic churches

Congressman urges Justice Dept. to investigate violent attacks on Catholic churches

The building that houses the nearly 250-year-old San Gabriel Mission in California sustained extensive damage in a fire on June 11, 2020. | YouTube/CBS Los Angeles

A Republican Congressman has urged the Department of Justice to investigate the recent spate of attacks on Catholic churches, a trend he believes amount to hate crimes.

In a letter sent to Attorney General William Barr on Aug. 5, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., urged the federal agency to fight religious discrimination and protect religious freedom in the United States.

"Since June, there have been nearly a dozen reported attacks on Catholic churches around the nation. These disturbing attacks range from arson to the beheading of a statue of the Virgin Mary," the letter read in part.

"I find these attacks to be a disturbing trend, happening in multiple areas across the nation, including within my own congressional district. In times of uncertainty we naturally turn to religion for comfort and peace, something many Americans are seeking as we combat COVID-19, but these attacks add another level of distress for many across our nation."

Fleischmann elaborated in an interview with the Washington Examiner that those who damage any house of worship of any kind must know that it will not be tolerated and that he considers such actions a hate crime.

“I would like to have a recognition that this problem exists, it persists, and sadly, it is not isolated to one city or one state,” Fleischmann said. “I think it needs to be looked at very carefully and addressed for the danger that it is.”

At St. Stephen Parish in Chattanooga, which is in Fleischmann's district, a statue of the Virgin Mary was beheaded in mid-July, an attack the congressman called "disturbing."

"I hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, but I also pray that they will find their way to God as well,” he said at the time.

A group of Catholics in the U.S. who are also alarmed by the rise in attacks on the faith have called on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to publicly denounce attacks on Catholic churches as well as the fueling of a “climate of hate” against Catholics by prominent members of his party.

CatholicVote said in a statement that Biden, “a baptized Catholic, has a responsibility and duty to Catholics to publicly condemn these attacks.” 

Attacks on Catholic churches have occurred in many cities across the country amid protests and riots sparked by the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. 

In New Haven, Connecticut, St. Joseph Church closed its doors temporarily in July after Satanic symbols were painted in its front door.

Similarly, in Colorado Springs, a statue of Mary was vandalized with red paint — tagged with the word "redrum," which is murder spelled backward and is a reference to horror novelist Stephen King's The Shining.

In other incidents, a statue of Jesus Christ at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Miami, Florida, was torn down and beheaded around that same time. And a fire that damaged Mission San Gabriel Arcángel church in Los Angeles was investigated as a possible arson attack.

Also in Florida, worshipers gathered inside Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala faced imminent risk to their lives last month when 24-year-old Steven Anthony Shields slammed his minivan into the church's front doors and poured gasoline in the foyer before setting it on fire.

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