An ad from a Catholic lobby group attacking President Joe Biden, himself a Catholic, claims churches are targeted for arson ‘because they protect unborn babies’.
anti-abortion tv spot begins with black and white images of unidentified structures on fire or in ruins. Intercut with audio clips of the ad’s narrator, who references church burnings in the 1960s, and John F. Kennedy, America’s first Catholic president, pledging to arrest those responsible.
Then the narrator moves to the present by affirming:
“Now churches are being burned down again because they are protecting unborn babies and women in need.”
Two headlines in the ad allude to two church burnings in July in Bethesda, Maryland. Another headline refers to a June fire at a Catholic church that is not identified by name in the ad.
The ad ends by suggesting that Biden showed indifference to the damage done to the church.
In the two July arson attacks, investigators found no indication that abortion was a motive of the teenager who was arrested in connection with starting the fires.
In the June arson, which occurred in Reston, Va., based on the date and other information in the headline, police initially linked the fire to the Supreme Court ruling which overturned Roe v. Wade, who protected access to abortion at the federal level. But they made no arrests and later said they did not know the motivation for the crime.
Fires suspected to be associated at two Bethesda churches
The group said he launched the announcement due to the Justice Department’s inaction in the face of attacks that damaged Catholic churches and anti-abortion organizations across the country after the project leaked on May 2 in the opinion of the Supreme Court that would overthrow Roe.
We have confirmed by news photographs that five of the the eight black–and–white the images featured in the ad are from alleged arson attacks in 1962 at black churches in Georgia. The other images are similar, but we could not determine their origin. Two of the churches pictured were centers for voters registration efforts during this period of great racial conflict.
The two July headlines of the announcement were excerpted from reports by The Washington Post and a Washington, DC Fox TV affiliate about suspected arson at two churches and vandalism outside a third church.
All three incidents occurred in Bethesda, several miles north of Washington, on July 9 and 10.
A fire occurred at a Catholic church, St. Jane Frances Parish in Chantal, and another at North Bethesda United Methodist Church. At the Catholic Church, several pews were damaged, and at the Methodist Church, the communion hall, kitchen and hallway were damaged, the Post reported. Damage was estimated at $50,000 to the Catholic Church and $1,000 to the Methodist Church, Fox reported.
In addition, headstones in the cemetery of a Baptist church were vandalized. Authorities believed the three incidents were related, according to the Post.
Neither report referenced abortion as a possible motive for the alleged arson attacks.
A miner was arrested in connection with the two fires about a week later, according to new reports citing police and firefighters. Officials cited no possible motive and said the case was being handled in juvenile court. Juvenile court proceedings are generally confidential.
Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department, told PolitiFact on Sept. 1, “There was no indication as to a motive, or that it was related to the abortion.”
Reverend Samuel Giese, pastor of the Catholic Church, said at Mass on July 10 that the church was set on fire and vandalized because of the position of the Catholic faith against abortion.
But Giese later told PolitiFact that his comments at the time were based on assumptions, in part because abortion rights protests were staged outside his church. He said fire department investigators later told him they “did not believe the church’s pro-life stance was the main motivation” for the teenager who was arrested.
A spokesperson for the Methodist Church could not be reached for comment.
Earlier fire of a Catholic church
The third headline in the ad came from a Fox News story about a June 26 fire at St. John Neumann Catholic Community Church in Reston, about 20 miles northwest of Washington.
Police reportedly launched an arson investigation after the church was the target of fire and graffiti two days after Roe’s reversal, according to the Fox News article. The graffiti included images of female genitalia spray-painted on the exterior of the church, along with messages such as: ‘This won’t stop’ and ‘Separation from Church + State “.
“The spray-painted remarks were related to the recent Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision,” the Fairfax County Police Department said. said at the time.
The fire was limited to smoldering mulch outside the building, police said.
Arlington Diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge said in a statement at the time the painted messages show that “the vandalism was a direct result of our unwavering support for unborn children and their mothers”.
On its website, St. John Neumann describe his “pro-life ministry”, whose activities include protests at a local abortion clinic.
Fairfax County Police Sgt. Lance Hamilton told PolitiFact on September 1 that police are asking for the public’s help with the case. No arrests have been made and although the graffiti is important evidence, the motive for the crime is unknown, he said.
CatholicVote claimed in an advertisement that churches were burned “because they protect unborn babies and women in need”.
The ad cited three arson attacks from 2022 and included images of churches that had been razed by racially motivated arson in 1962.
In two of the 2022 fires, authorities found no evidence that abortion was the motive of the minor who was the only person arrested for the crimes.
Police initially linked the third fire to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade two days earlier, but later told PolitiFact she didn’t know the motive.
The claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it mostly wrong.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article.