A Catholic political advocacy group is calling on presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden to speak out on a rash of violence and vandalism against churches across the nation.
"Catholic churches across America are literally burning, and Joe Biden has said nothing. Leading members of the Democratic Party have fueled a climate of hate against Catholics, and these attacks have now led to acts of vandalism and violence," CatholicVote president Brian Burch said Thursday.
"These attacks on the Church raise serious questions about the commitment of Joe Biden, a self-professed Catholic, to stand up to the rising climate of anti-Catholicism across the country."
Between July 10 and July 16, Catholic institutions from Massachusetts to Colorado reported several instances of vandalism, with some acts endangering the lives of congregants. In Florida, a 24-year-old man set fire to a church while several congregants were inside preparing to celebrate Mass. Police arrested the man and charged him with attempted second-degree murder and arson.
Statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary have also been desecrated by vandals in Colorado and in other locations on the East Coast.
Protesters also pulled down statues of Junipero Serra, a Spanish Catholic priest who founded several missions in California. Pope Francis declared Serra a saint in 2015, which sparked pushback from critics who claimed that Serra's legacy was linked to the abuse of indigenous peoples in California.
Biden's fellow Democrat, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), drew criticism by using a statue of Father Damien, a Catholic priest who spent more than a decade ministering to a Hawaiian leper colony before dying of leprosy himself, as an example of "patriarchy and white supremacist culture."
Ocasio-Cortez defended herself on Twitter by arguing she did not say Father Damien was a "bad figure," but instead was trying to draw attention to the fact that the "huge supermajority of statues in the Capitol are white men."
Biden has made his Catholic faith a theme of his political career. He called it a "bedrock foundation of my life" after President Trump said Biden would "hurt God" as president.
But many of Biden's political positions contradict the Roman Catholic Church's teachings, including his pro-choice stance on abortion. Last year Biden's public support for abortion caused a Catholic priest to deny him the Eucharist at a parish in South Carolina.
Until the beginning of his presidential campaign, Biden consistently supported the Hyde Amendment to ban federal funding of abortion. He reversed that position last year, saying he opposed the measure because "times have changed."
The Biden campaign hired a director of faith engagement who worked on the 2012 Obama campaign. He acknowledged the difficulty of peeling off evangelical support from Trump, saying the campaign is "going to go after every vote, but I do not think we will suddenly win the evangelical vote with 80 percent."
Trump enjoys high levels of support from Evangelical voters, but his hold on Catholic voters is less stable. Thirty-six percent of Catholics said they approve of Trump's presidency, according to a June survey. Forty-seven percent of white Catholics said they approve, while just 20 percent of Hispanic Catholics said the same.