Knoxville Catholic Charities Targeted by Arsonist

Bishop Richard F. Stika examines the damage to Catholic Charities building

A fire destroyed much of the Catholic Charities building on Dameron Avenue Sunday night, November 28. Authorities have determined that the cause of the fire was arson. The interior of the building was a total loss except, it appears, for a crucifix and a rosary found intact on an interior wall. Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville took possession of both with the intention of framing them and displaying them in a newly renovated Catholic Charities building.

Police and Fire responded to calls that the location was burning around 10:30pm Sunday night. An investigation determined the cause was arson. A broken window with a gas tank and matches nearby were found on the location. About ten full-time employees worked in the building along with dozens of volunteers. Operations have been re-located nearby to the Ladies of Charity offices and to Holy Ghost Catholic Church. Bishop Stika said he hopes to get permission to put a trailer on the Dameron Avenue location. “The work will continue,” Bishop Stika said, “and we just take it one day at a time.”

Catholic Charities of East Tennessee (CCETN) assists hundreds of east Tennesseans through its various ministries across the eastern counties of the state. The Dameron Avenue location housed the home offices of CCETN. Those ministries directly impacted by the fire include the Knoxville Pregnancy Center, Columbus Home Assisting Parents office, Hope Kitchen supplies, and all administrative offices.

Anyone wishing to assist financially with the rebuilding effort can go to this link.

Last October, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reported that there were at least 111 attacks on Catholic sites since May 2020, including vandalism, arson, destruction of statues or other religious items, obscene or anti-Catholic graffiti painted on churches, gravestones defaced with swastikas, and other types of attacks. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, published a statement: “These incidents of vandalism have ranged from the tragic to the obscene, from the transparent to the inexplicable. There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace.”

FBI data indicates that hate crimes, including attacks on churches, are becoming more common. It’s difficult to say why, though some theorize that a general lack of respect for societal institutions is behind it. In my mind, it’s related to the general lack of respect for institutions as well as for human life. Our culture encourages little respect for those who think differently. If anything, it encourages the opposite — hatred toward and denunciation of anyone who thinks differently. It also encourages violence toward those who we perceive as having treated us badly. There is no regard for expressing disappointment or anger through civil means. Now, it’s all about getting back through violence.

It’s useless to speculate on the motives behind the person or persons who set the fire at Catholic Charities. Any number of reasons or excuses could be proffered. Until and unless the culprit is caught, we will not know why he or she or they acted so violently toward an institution that provides nothing but care to hundreds of people across the city and beyond. In any case, for now ours is to pray for the staff, the clients, and whoever it was who committed this crime. May our good and gracious Lord keep the spirits of the staff lifted up, keep the services to the clients flowing, and extend healing and conversion to the arsonist(s).

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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