Justice for Father Serra

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. 

But naturally, there are those who criticize the fact that the vandals are being charged at all.

Lucina Vidauri, the organizer of the protest, complained that her life has been threatened. “We wanted to open a dialogue with the church, basically, and it just kind of got out of hand,” she explained, according to the local ABC station. But in an earlier interview with local news station KTVU, she expressed her desire to see the statue torn down “You go to the city,” she said. “You go to the board. It’s all dragged out. We don’t want to do that. We just want to get it done.” The claim that the protesters were trying to open a dialogue with the church is ridiculous – to trespass en masse onto someone’s property and demand that they take down a statue is not an attempt at dialogue, it is an act of intimidation and bullying. It is reprehensible that Viaduri believes she and her organization have the right to control which statues the church is allowed to display on their own private property. Her comment about wanting to “get it done” is offensive and nonsensical; neither her organization nor the city nor any board has the right to have any input whatsoever on which statues a private organization displays. 

“For the church to take such a hard stance is extremely disappointing,” said Morning Star Gali of the organization Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples, according to Religion News. Preposterously, she described the brutal destruction of the statue as “an act of healing” and voiced her support for “all tearing down of monuments to colonialism and genocide and white supremacy.” Deliberately inflicting physical damage to a priceless work of art and psychological damage to other people is the exact opposite of healing, and it is abhorrent that someone would be sufficiently lacking in tolerance and empathy to characterize it this way.

George Galvis, director of Communities United for Restorative Justice, criticized the church for being “out of step with the national movement to remove symbols of hate” (it is a good thing to be out of step with a movement that involves the brutal destruction of other cultures’ works of art) and even had the audacity to demand that the church apologize. “We are not apologetic about the removal of the statue,” he said, according to El Tecolote. “In fact, I think there is an opportunity for the Catholic Church and the Archdioceses to start making amends and atone for some of the harm they have caused to the indigenous peoples of California and across Indian Country.”

Andrea Carmen of the International Indian Treaty Council said, “we also have a right to live in dignity, free from racism and the continued trauma of misstated versions of history,” which is hypocritical given the trauma that the vandals inflicted on the Catholic community and the fact that the act of vandalism inherently deprived that community of their ability to live in dignity. 

Finally, there is also a petition demanding that the D.A. drop the charges against the vandals. The petition criticizes the city of San Rafael for “refusing to recognize the harms perpetrated against indigenous people,” calls those who support bringing charges “extremists,” demands that the church “consider how they might begin to reconcile with the violence of their founding,” urges people to “contribute” to the “healing” of the indigenous community, and even criticizes the Catholic community for having conducted an exorcism at the statue site. This last criticism is particularly low. It’s bad enough that bullies violently destroyed a religious symbol, but now the bullies are going so far as to deny the people harmed by their actions the right to hold a prayer ceremony to help them heal.

The contention of many of these activists that the church should apologize is truly despicable. The protesters invaded the church’s property, viciously destroyed a beautiful statue that is not merely a piece of property but a symbol of faith, slandered the historical figure that the statue depicts, and celebrated with cheers after their act of destruction was complete. And now their supporters are claiming that they are the true victims and are demanding that the actual victims apologize. Make no mistake: destroying a statue is never okay under any circumstances, and anyone who does this is necessarily in the wrong. Attacking statues that are located on public streets and in public parks is reprehensible enough, but to trespass on private property in order to destroy a statue takes the wrongness to yet another level. This protest was a demonstration of bigotry and intolerance, and I have zero sympathy for anyone who was involved in it or who supports it in any way. These people are mean, brutal, and vicious bullies with no empathy for anyone different from themselves and no tolerance for any viewpoints other than their own. When you go around trampling on the rights of other people, you deserve everything you get. There is no punishment, including the death penalty, that I would consider too harsh for these defendants. By being freed on bail and by not facing hate crime charges, they are being treated much more leniently than they deserve. Viaduri is lucky that she was not criminally charged for encouraging the act of destruction. For these intolerant bullies to claim that they are being treated unfairly, and for them to demand apologies from their victims, is disgraceful. 

Side note: In another piece of good news, according to the National Catholic Register, an individual named Cesar Aguirre was arrested in a separate incident that also involved the heinous destruction of a statue of Father Serra. This attack took place on July 4th in Sacramento and involved a mob of vandals setting the statue on fire, tearing it down, smashing it with sledgehammers, and dancing on top of it. This sadistic, despicable behavior deserves the harshest possible punishment, and I’m glad that in both the Sacramento and San Rafael incidents, perpetrators are facing criminal charges for their conduct.