An iota of good news from San Rafael, California: five despicable human beings are actually being held accountable for their decision to trespass on a Catholic church’s property and destroy a statue of Father Junipero Serra.
On Columbus Day, a group of intolerant bullies held a protest at the Mission San Rafael (I didn’t hear about this when it happened because I was too busy battling with people who were making insulting comments on my social media post about Christopher Columbus). Five of them attacked the statue, ripping off the duct tape that church employees had placed to protect it, spraying red paint all over it, writing the words “genocide” and “rape” on its pedestal, chipping at it with rocks, attaching ropes to it, and pulling it down. Police arrested these five bullies and charged them with felony vandalism. They submitted the case to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and recommended additional charges of vandalism to a place of worship, which is a hate crime. The defendants’ names are as follows:
- Ines Shiam Gardilcic, 40, of Oakland
- Victoria Eva Montanopena, 29, of Oakland
- Melissa Aguilar, 36, of Novato
- Mayorgi Nadeska Delgadillo, 36, of San Rafael
- Moira Cribben Van de Walker, 25, of San Anselmo
The San Francisco Archdiocese took a strong stance in defense of the statue and the Catholic community and urged the D.A. to prosecute the vandals to the fullest extent of the law. “This attack on a cherished religious symbol on our own church property is not a minor property crime, but an attack on Catholics as a people,” said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. “If the perpetrators of this crime are not brought to justice, small mobs will be able to decide what religious symbols all people of faith may display on their own property to further their faith, and they will continue to inflict considerable spiritual suffering on ordinary Catholic people who would see our sacred spaces as unprotected by law.”
Protesters also demonstrated outside the D.A.’s office with signs reading “Save Our Statues” and “Vandalism is a Crime.”
As a result of these efforts, D.A. Lori Frugoli announced on November 13 that she was bringing felony vandalism charges against the five defendants.
Cordileone praised this decision, noting that it “represents the first time that any of the lawbreakers attacking statues of St. Junipero Serra and other acts of vandalism on Catholic Church property across California will be held accountable for their actions in a court of law.” He continued:
“The crime was caught on video. The lawbreakers came prepared with ropes, chisels and spray paint, clearly indicating forethought in committing this crime. If crimes like these are not punished, then the government is telling mobs they get to decide what symbols Catholics and other faiths may display. Given that this was vandalism at a house of worship, the San Rafael Police Department understandably recommended that the perpetrators be charged with a hate crime. Indeed, to vandalize a house of worship to express one’s views is not a mere property crime: it is an attack on the identity and rights of a whole faith community. In a diverse society we may debate and disagree about many things, including St. Junipero Serra’s legacy. But mobs do not get to trespass on other people’s holy grounds to destroy their sacred symbols. While a hate crime was not charged in this case, let us hope that this prosecution will nonetheless contribute to putting an end to attacks on all houses of worship.”
Father Luello Palacpac, the pastor of Mission San Rafael, described the act of vandalism as traumatic for his congregants and added, “Whether you agree or disagree with the historic record of St. Junipero, no one has a right to trespass on a faith community’s sacred grounds to destroy property and even more importantly the symbols of its faith.”
The San Rafael Police Department justifiably faced some criticism for the fact that officers made no attempt to actually stop the vandals from attacking the statue. According to the Marin Independent Journal, Police Chief Diana Bishop said, “It’s not last year. It’s not the year before, how police officers see something and they just run into it and take care of it. That’s how we are programmed. That’s what we want to do. We have to be more thoughtful when a property crime is occurring and a person is not being injured, and that’s what the plan was.” It would have been better if police had intervened to protect this statue before it was destroyed; in my opinion it is just as bad (if not worse) for a statue to be injured as for a person to be injured. But the police department is to be commended for charging the vandals. Far too many times, intolerant bullies have cruelly destroyed irreplaceable statues all over the world and faced no consequences whatsoever for their despicable behavior.