Two Eastern Catholic churches in San Diego County suffered graffiti vandalism attacks over the weekend, and while authorities are treating the incidents as connected, they have not yet determined the perpetrators’ motives.
St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, California on Sept. 25 was defaced with graffiti depicting “pentagrams, upside down crosses, white power, swastikas,” as well as slogans such as “Biden 2020,” and “BLM” (Black Lives Matter).
The cathedral is the seat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of San Diego.
The same evening, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, also in El Cajon, was similarly attacked, with the pastor discovering spray-painted swastikas on an exterior wall of the church the next day.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a Syriac Catholic church, part of the Syriac Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark.
The sheriff’s department has not officially announced any suspects, but is investigating the incidents as hate crimes.
Monsignor Emad Hanna Al-Shaikh, pastor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, told CNA he alerted all the relevant authorities when he discovered the vandalism, and later painted over the graffiti.
Msgr. Al-Shaikh said he strongly suspects the same perpetrators who hit St. Peter cathedral also defaced his church, though he does not yet have proof. The churches are located three miles apart.
He said he does not know of any reason why someone would vandalize his church, and does not know who might have carried out the attack.
“We’re friends with everybody, we love everybody, and we’re at peace with everybody,” he said.
Sargent Mike Hettinger, a detective investigating the incidents, told CNA that the Sheriff's Department does currently have some "good leads" in the case, including surveillance video, tips from the community, and physical evidence collected that they do not yet want to make public.
The department does believe the two crimes are related, he said. There appear to have been five perpetrators, and based on the video evidence they appeared to be juveniles, he said.
The motive for the crimes remains unclear, especially since the messages of the graffiti— which included, for example, both swastikas and "BLM"— appear to be at odds with each other.
There were protests taking place in downtown San Diego that evening, so the graffiti could be related to that, he said, but investigators are not yet certain on that point.
The vandalism comes amid a spate of similar incidents at Catholic churches that has lasted for months. Earlier last week a man burned pews in an arson attack in a Florida Catholic church, and a man with a baseball bat damaged a crucifix and several doors at a Texas seminary.
Last week a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was destroyed in a Texas cathedral.
Also last week, a parish in Midvale, Utah, saw back-to-back attacks. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church had its namesake statue beheaded followed by burglary on subsequent nights.
A historic church built by St. Junípero Serra was burned in California this summer, in a fire being investigated as arson. A Florida man was arrested for setting flame to a parish church in the Orlando diocese.
Fires have been started and statues of Christ, Mary, and saints have been beheaded or destroyed at parishes across the country, while in California numerous public statues of St. Junípero Serra have been torn down, defaced, and destroyed.
While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.
A poll conducted at the end of August by RealClear Opinion Research in partnership with EWTN News found that 83 percent of Catholic likely voters are concerned about attacks on churches in recent months.