Vandals defaced a statue of Jesus outside Calgary’s Sacred Heart Church in mid-July. Photo contributed

Parish statues targeted by vandals

By 
  • July 30, 2020

Constant vigilance will be required from staff and parishioners at churches across Canada to safeguard against the rising tide of vandalism inflicted upon religious statues. 

This rash of incidents began in late May at the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Sudbury, Ont. Six of the statues depicting the Stations of the Cross had their faces or head removed. 

Since then, there have been a number of similar incidents. York Regional Police are investigating two statues violated outside St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham, Ont., in mid-July. Days later, video surveillance caught “two young people” applying either a marker or chalk to the garments of a bronze Jesus statue outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Calgary. In Guelph, Ont., the Basilica of Our Lady saw damage done to a statue of Mary outside the church on July 19.

These incidents fall on the heels of similar incidents across the United States in the wake of the death of George Floyd May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody, which sparked protests across North America. A number of figures with racist or colonial pasts have been targeted, including St. Junipero Serra, whose statues have been vandalized for his alleged role in colonizing Indigenous people in what is now California.

Neil MacCarthy, director of public relations and communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto, said such acts “hurt everyone.”

“It is sad to think someone feels that they should desecrate a statue or vandalize church property. It’s shameful and sad for the entire church community,” said MacCarthy. 

Fr. Ian Duffy discovered the vandals’ work at his Guelph church.

“It’s very unfortunate,” he told the Guelph Mercury Tribune. “For starters, most of the symbols — I don’t even know what they’re supposed to mean. But the one I found most unfortunate and offensive was the swastika being painted onto the statue of Mary.”

MacCarthy said the archdiocese has discussed with parishes how to safeguard monuments from future incidents. Safety protocols include proper lighting around the statue, re-positioning the monuments into more fortified positions, investing in security cameras and encouraging parishioners to keep a watchful eye. 

Fr. John Horgan, pastor of St. Piux X Church in North Vancouver, has taken such measures since multiple acts of vandalism to its crucifix statue in 2015 — including investing in a security camera system — and has not seen major incidents. 

Horgan told The Catholic Register that churches should consider putting up signs that educate the public about sacred imagery. 

“I think in our age we have lost the meaning of sacred imagery for many people,” said Horgan. “We have this iconoclasm and ‘cancel culture’ going on and disrespect for the property for others. Religious symbols have always had a certain sacred nature that has always been respected by people of other faiths and people of no faiths whatsoever.”

MacCarthy doesn’t believe the incident in Markham was politically motivated, “at least from what we were able to gather.” Likewise, in Guelph, Duffy doesn’t believe the incident at his church was an attack on Catholicism.

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