Editor's Report

Latest Graffiti Incident at St. Patrick’s Sparks Response


In the overnight hours of New Year’s Day, the front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was again marred by graffiti for the second time in recent months.

This time, the scrawling on the cathedral’s Fifth Avenue façade near 51st Street featured the lettering ACAB over a 2-foot by 4-foot area. The acronym was intended as a slur against police officers.

That night, police had responded to reports of a group of protesters blocking traffic at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street around 1:30 a.m., according to a report in the New York Post.

The protesters, numbering about 150, stood in front of police cars, which had their lights and sirens on, blocking their way.

Chriselle Vega, 20, of the Bronx was arrested last week after police reviewed the cathedral’s video surveillance records, according to the Post.

The cathedral was also the victim of scrawled graffiti near the end of May last year.

The cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, in a phone interview on Monday morning, said that the latest graffiti was written in red lettering in much the same place on the cathedral’s exterior, though not as extensively as last time.

The cathedral’s maintenance crew removed the graffiti on the cathedral the same evening. “We have wonderful maintenance people, they are always on top of things. We send them out right away,” Msgr. Ritchie said.

He noted that there were additional scrawls discovered on the bollards set up to protect the cathedral, including one that said, “Catholic capitalism is ungodly,” and others attacking the police.

Msgr. Ritchie said the protesters, who conduct weekly marches, came past the cathedral because New Year’s Eve festivities in Times Square forced a change in their normal route.

The New York Post reported that the protesters outside the cathedral Jan. 1 were affiliated with Black Lives Matter and Justice for George (Floyd).

“It’s a shame that people’s frustrations (were expressed) against an institution that is doing its best to help all of New York,” said Msgr. Ritchie, referring to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The cathedral’s size and prominence played a factor, especially in this latest incident, Msgr. Ritchie noted. “We happened to be the billboard for them.”

The cathedral’s own security staff and cameras are bolstered by the presence of NYPD officers, and there is a good rapport between the two.

“We’re extra alert,” Msgr. Ritchie said. “Security has always been pretty strong. We all take it very seriously.” The rector added that the NYPD is “very protective of us.”

On Jan. 5, Cardinal Dolan penned an opinion column in the New York Post in which he noted that the graffiti focused on “both the Catholic faith and the men and women of the New York Police Department.”

The cardinal said he decided to remain silent after the first graffiti incident at St. Patrick’s last year. “I let it go, figuring I needn’t stoke the embers of anger that were burning throughout our country.”

Cardinal Dolan decided to speak up this time, calling the attack on the cathedral “ugly and unlawful.” He said those “who break the law and scrawl their graffiti on a house of worship” must be held to account for their actions.

He said he took counsel from the words of a woman from the Bronx who emailed him to say, “Cardinal Dolan, it’s time we learn from our Jewish and Islamic neighbors. A synagogue or mosque is defaced, and they are quick to condemn it. The governor and the mayor would join in. They’re right.”

The cardinal also noted that the cathedral makes its own towering statement, as it “professes that all life matters, as we are all made in God’s image and likeness.

“For the religion that claims St. Patrick’s as its mother church in these acres of the Lord’s vineyard called the Archdiocese of New York, ‘black lives matter’ in a dramatic way.”

The cardinal went on to detail how the Church in New York helps blacks and members of other groups, indeed all people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, through its education, health care, pro-life and Catholic Charities ministries, as well as through sacramental programs in parishes.

Cardinal Dolan said he was honored “to be coupled with the brave women and men of the NYPD in those ugly insults sprayed on the stones of the cathedral.

“They, too, dedicate themselves to serving all New Yorkers, often risking their own health, safety or even their lives,” he said.

“In these last 12 years that I have been privileged to serve as archbishop,” the cardinal wrote, “I’ve spent a good chunk of time meeting with, listening to and working together with thoughtful leaders and advocates of all races and religions, making some progress in addressing social iniquity and inherent racism in our city and culture.

“That is helpful, necessary and productive, and we will continue our work, as we must.”