Two Churches in Washington State Burn in Apparent Arson Attacks
Investigators have deemed the fire at Sacred Heart to be intentional, but police have not yet made the same pronouncement about the fire at the Baptist church.
By Jonah McKeown
Two church buildings — one Baptist, one Catholic — were damaged by fires in apparent arson attacks Sunday morning in Brewster, a town in central Washington.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church suffered some fire damage near the sanctuary from an incendiary device dropped through a broken window early Nov. 15. New Testament Baptist Church, located a block away, suffered more serious fire damage to its interior the same morning.
Investigators have deemed the fire at Sacred Heart to be intentional, police say. The police have not yet made the same pronouncement about the fire at the Baptist church, but the investigation is ongoing.
Father Pedro Bautista, Sacred Heart’s pastor, told CNA that most of Sacred Heart’s parishioners are Hispanic, and that the community is “fearful” after the incident.
“This is just adding more stress to the lives of the people,” he said.
Father Bautista said he noticed the fire when he came to open the church on Sunday morning. At that point, the local fire department was already battling the fire at the nearby Baptist church, which appears to have been set around 2 am, and was discovered around 5 am.
The fire damaged a chair and some carpet near the sanctuary at Sacred Heart. Father Bautista said the fire department and the police were surprised that the fire did not do more damage.
The fire at the Baptist church did not entirely destroy the building, but the damage to the interior was significant enough that the building may be beyond salvage, local media reported.
Father Bautista said he left his card with the fire chief — who attends the Baptist church that burned — asking him to tell the church’s pastor that they are welcome to use Sacred Heart’s parish hall as a gathering space until their church is repaired.
“Honestly, that was my first thought. I wanted to talk to them and offer them [our] building. I didn’t realize [someone] had burned our church too,” he laughed.
The priest said he does not know who could have set the fires, and chose not to speculate. The investigation is still in its early stages, he noted, and he said he does not want to feed rumors in the community.
He said he considers his parish to be blessed that their insurance will likely cover the incident, and that he was still able to celebrate 2pm Sunday Mass the day of the fire.
“People were comforted that we were still able to have the Eucharist, that is a big statement for the community,” he said.
The Brewster Police Department said in a Nov. 16 statement that the two fires remain under investigation. The police have not announced any suspects.
Brewster PD Chief Marcos Ruiz declined to comment further to CNA, adding that the department does not have plans to release additional information on the active investigation.
The Diocese of Spokane requested prayers for the Sacred Heart community in a tweet on Sunday. The diocese did not comment further by press time.
Numerous attacks on Catholic churches and art in the U.S. have been documented throughout 2020 — including three separate desecrations of Marian statues in the same weekend in July.
At least three vandalism attacks have happened against images of Mary this year in New York City alone.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver was defaced with graffiti during a protest June 1, with rioters spray-painting slogans such as “GOD IS DEAD” and “PEDOFILES” [sic] on the church’s exterior.
A statue of the Virgin Mary was beheaded in Gary the evening of July 2 or morning of July 3.
On July 11, a man was arrested after he reportedly admitted to crashing a minivan into Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida, and then setting it on fire while parishioners were inside. No one was injured.
Also on July 11, a 249-year-old California mission founded by St. Junipero Serra burned in a fire being investigated as arson.
The same day, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was attacked and beheaded at a parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Three days later, vandals beheaded a statue of Christ outside Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Southwest Miami-Dade County, the same day that a statue of the Blessed Virgin at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs was tagged with red paint in an act of vandalism.
At Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bloomingburg, New York, a monument to unborn children killed by abortion was knocked over the weekend of July 18.
In late August, vandals beheaded a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Holy Family Parish in Citrus Heights, California. A statue of the Ten Commandments, placed at the parish “in dedication to all those who have lost their life through abortion” was grafittied with a swastika.
In September, a man went on an hours-long vandalism spree at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Tioga, Louisiana, breaking at least six windows, beating several metal doors, and breaking numerous statues around the parish grounds. He was later arrested and charged.
The same month, vandals toppled a statue of St. Therese outside St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Parish in Midvale, Utah.
Later in September, a man was charged for smashing a 90-year-old statue of Christ inside St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso.
Also in September, a man wielded a baseball bat on the grounds of a Catholic seminary in Texas and damaged a crucifix and several doors, but caused no harm to seminary students.
St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon 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”.
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.
In mid-October, vandals knocked down a statue of Mary and a statue of Christ outside St. Germaine Catholic Church in Prescott Valley, Arizona, about 90 miles north of Phoenix.
Throughout the summer, numerous depictions of St. Junipero Serra, mostly in California, have been forcibly pulled down by mobs of protestors.
A crowd of about 100 people tore down another St. Junípero Serra statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park the evening of June 19. Rioters pulled down a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento July 4.
An Oct. 12 protest at Mission San Rafael Arcangel began peacefully but then turned violent, as participants defaced another St. Junipero Serra statue with red paint before dragging it to the ground with nylon straps and ropes. The local district attorney ultimately charged five individuals with felony vandalism in connection with the incident.
Abroad, a recent report chronicled more than 500 hate crimes against Christians in Europe in 2019, included attacks against Catholic priests, arson attacks on Catholic churches, the destruction of images of the Virgin Mary, vandalism of a pregnancy counseling center, and the theft of consecrated Eucharistic hosts from tabernacles.