SAN GABRIEL, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A spokesperson for California's San Gabriel Arcángel Mission reportedly told a fellow Catholic that it's "justified" to attack churches and statues if they're deemed offensive.
The remark was made July 11 to Beatrice Cardenas, former Republican congressional candidate for California's 27th district, as she was surveying fire damage at the historic mission.
When Cardenas countered that didn't give anyone a right to set a church or a building on fire, Huerta responded, "Yes, it does. You and I also have the right to do that if we wanted to because this is a free country."
The conversation took place amid "a very emotional scene," said Cardenas, who described many people gathered at the smoldering remnants of the church as hugging and crying.
Firefighters on site "were very choked up," Cardenas said. Capt. Antonio Negrete, public information officer for the San Gabriel Fire Department, called the scene "heartbreaking," NBC Los Angeles reported.
Though no definite cause for the blaze has been determined, arson has been identified as a possibility.
Based on Cardenas' conversations with the people gathered she said, "I can tell you that everyone is fed up already and strongly suspect this was an arson attack against the Church, against this nation, and against freedom."
Cardenas explained to Church Militant that the "beloved and holy" San Gabriel Mission — and the rest of the archdiocese — has fallen into the current cultural mindset that our great nation was built on hatred and oppression that needs correction.
The "rock-solid catechesis of the Catholic Church" is being attacked by a destructive force from within, by "members of the community who value social change above truth," she said.
"California has become so 'progressive' that our clergy has tried to appease this movement by allowing concessions from political pressures," she said. We look to the archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles "for cues and many look to him for direction."
But his comments show that "he is willing to bend a knee to the demands of those who seek to destroy the Church and its legacy" she said, adding, "We need bishops to be steadfast and unapologetic about our history."
Cardenas referred to a letter Gomez wrote late last month in which he explained he has "come to understand how the image of Fr. Serra and the missions evokes painful memories for some people."
But, "the truth is uglier than that," she says. The official story the archdiocese gave the public was that the statute of St. Serra at the San Gabriel mission was placed in secure storage for safekeeping. But according to Cardenas, "The archbishop José Gomez decided to remove it because it brings painful moments to many people," says Cardenas on her Facebook page, "per Ms. Huerta."
Saint Serra is a "specific target" of the Left, maintains John Nolte of Breitbart News, "as a result of the lies going around about his treatment of missionary Indians at the time."
"The truth is that St. Junipero risked his life to bring God to the North American natives and even confronted his own government about their treatment. The smears against him are nothing short of a blood libel," Nolte said.
Cardenas told Church Militant she is invested in protecting the mission on multiple levels.
On a personal level, she said, "I am deeply committed to advocating and fighting for implementation of procedures to protect the Mission of San Gabriel Arcángel — from hiring 24/7 private security to exploring change of ownership of the Mission."
As a mother, she said: "[M]y daughter's ancestors are buried at this Mission and were Spanish soldiers who accompanied Fr. Serra on his first trip to what was to become Alta, California, so as mother I also have an added interest in protecting the Missions and the rich legacy of once Spanish Catholic California."
As a Congressional candidate in this district she feels "the need to fight for this community and to win this seat in Congress because we don't have enough people fighting to preserve our history and our Christian faith — despite how liberal my district is," she adds.
Cardenas said reflectively, "So now you know why the Church is not defending itself against these attacks. It feels it is making reparations. It is only a matter of time before the existence of every Christian church is considered an error that must be corrected."
"We are in deep trouble, folks," she warned.
UPDATE: Church Militant reached out to Terry Huerta for her version of the exchange Cardenas described. Huerta responded:
Beatrice Cardenas called me over to the yellow tape the day of the fire. She said she was very well connected to the Mission and that she had ancestors buried in our cemetery and could I please let her get closer to take a photograph. I explained to her that the fire was still smoldering and that it was unsafe to enter. She then asked if she could have a piece of wood or some kind of "relic" that she could take with her. I again explained that it was unsafe, that I couldn't take anything from the Church and that I was sorry.
Her demeanor changed completely and then she said to me, "What happened to the statue?" I told her not to worry about the statue, that we had removed it and relocated it to the garden.
Her reply was "So you gave in?" I replied by saying that if she wanted to know what the Church's stance was on the removal of the statue to go on the website and see our pastor's comment.
She further pushed and said, "Yeah, I know but you gave in." I repeated the statement to her and she said again, "So you think it's OK to pull down statues and burn them and vandalize them (or something to that effect)?"
I told her, and these are my words verbatim, "Ma'am this is a free country and people have the right to gather and protest." She didn't let me finish my sentence, talked over me and said, "So you are condoning those actions?"
I replied and told her, "Don't put words in my mouth, I don't condone anything." She went on to insult me, saying: "What kind of a person are you? What kind of a Catholic are you? Shame on the Mission for having someone like you on staff. Shame on the Archdiocese."
At that point I said to her, "I am a Catholic and this is my church ... and it's burning. We are mourning a tragedy here and you want to debate me? Look around you, look at all these people. They are mourning too and I am not going to stand here and debate you."