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Anti-Catholic attacks merit national media scrutiny, Irish-American group says

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CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2020 / 12:30 am MT (CNA).- National news media cannot ignore intolerance against Catholics, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has said, citing recent attacks on Catholic churches and vandalism of statues of saints.

The group cited an incident at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida, where a man crashed a minivan into the church and then lit it on fire with gasoline early on Saturday, July 11 while people were inside preparing for morning Mass.

“The Hibernians are appalled at the conspicuous lack of national news coverage, particularly among the national broadcast networks, surrounding this blatant attack. The absence of national reporting concerning such an egregious attack against a Catholic church is at stark variance with past coverage of similar despicable attacks against other faiths,” the group said July 13.

“This absence of coverage is particularly glaring given that this attack is only the latest in a wave of wanton destruction targeting Catholics including the vandalism of a Catholic church in Boston, a Catholic school in New York and the ongoing investigation of a fire that destroyed the historic 249-year-old San Gabriel Mission and over the same weekend.”

The Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in 1836, based on similar groups in Ireland. It is the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the U.S. and claims membership in all 50 states.

The Hibernians’ statement cited the ancient legal principle “silence implies consent,” criticizing the national media for showing “silence on the rising tide of anti-Catholic violence.”

“The Hibernians ask why such an outrageous attack targeting Catholics is less worthy of reporting than an attack on a house of worship of another faith or a public institution? The news media needs to take accountability for its apathy and blatant double standard and the creation of a shameful ‘hierarchy of outrage’ in which hate targeting Catholics is not ‘newsworthy’,” the group said.

The story of the attack and Shields’ arrest was covered by Fox News and the Associated Press, whose account was carried by the New York Times and Washington Post websites. However, a CNA review of ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN news websites found no additional coverage.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida was apprehended by police and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest in connection with the Florida church attack.

According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. He said that he awoke on Saturday morning with a “mission.”

Shields also quoted scripture, especially the Book of Revelation, to officers, and told them his objections to the Catholic Church.

In 2019, Shields was arrested after swinging a crowbar at a woman and saying he wanted to kill her.

Also last weekend, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the church of the Mission San Gabriel was destroyed by fire. The 18th century mission was founded by St. Junipero Serra, whom Pope Francis canonized during his 2015 visit to the U.S. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Several statues of Serra have been torn down in recent unrest, with some critics claiming he committed violence against Native Americans. Demonstrators toppled his statues in Sacramento and San Francisco, while some institutions with statues of Serra have removed them from the public for safekeeping.

Serra was an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, and was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of natives, according to historians. He helped convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Many natives showed an outpouring of grief at Serra’s death in 1784.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles defended the saint in his June 29 column for Angelus News, published before the fire at the mission.

“The real St. Junipero fought a colonial system where natives were regarded as ‘barbarians’ and ‘savages,’ whose only value was to serve the appetites of the white man. For St. Junipero, this colonial ideology was a blasphemy against the God who has ‘created (all men and women) and redeemed them with the most precious blood of his Son’,” Archbishop Gomez said.

Other acts of vandalism have also taken place recently at Catholic institutions. Several Catholic churches and cathedrals have faced graffiti and broken windows in recent riots.

Boston police are investigating an arson attack late July 11 on a statue of the Virgin Mary outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. An unknown individual had set fire to plastic flowers in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body of the statue.

In the New York City borough of Queens, early Friday morning on July 10, a vandal spray-painted the word “idol” on the statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary.

In a third incident, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was beheaded last weekend at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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