The Junipero Serra statue at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu was discovered to be vandalized the night of Thursday, Aug. 13.
The statue was found smashed and broken in half with the priest’s head lying at the base of the statue, according to a crime report recorded by the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.
Serra was an 18th century Franciscan Friar who led the development of the California mission system during the period of Spanish colonization. In 2015, the friar was controversially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. In recent months, Serra’s complicated legacy has sparked debate as well as acts of vandalism against statues depicting the religious figure.
It was not immediately clear if there was a political motive for the crime and detectives investigating the vandalism for the Malibu/Lost Hills station did not reply to interview requests.
The Serra Retreat Center was founded in 1943 “in a beautiful setting, for peace, serenity and reflection,” according to its website. The center is host to retreats, both religious and secular. Over time, a private, gated neighborhood developed around the center’s grounds.
Residents of the Serra Retreat neighborhood, which surrounds the center, were “disappointed” and “disturbed” by the vandalism. Resident Anne Payne told The Malibu Times that such a crime in this “place of peace” was “malicious, especially knowing that someone had planned and sneaked in.”
This was not the first time the $10,000 statue had been damaged. On July 25, someone vandalized the same statue, breaking fingers off to leave only the middle finger intact.
A Junipero Serra statue in downtown Los Angeles was similarly brought to the ground by activists on June 20, who reasoned that the statue represented social controversies including mass incarceration and enslavement.
However, Father Serra acts as an inspiration to some, such as Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez.
“He preached God’s compassion, fought for the dignity of women and the rights of America’s native peoples, and he was probably the first person in the Americas to make a moral case against capital punishment,” Gómez said in the LA Times.
Two additional Junipero Serra statues were put into storage after the Ventura County City Council voted, 6-0, that the statue did not meet the designated requirements to be deemed a national landmark, according to reporting by the Ventura County Star.
Ventura City Council Member Sofia Rubalcava was quoted supporting the removal of the statue.
Rubalcava reasoned that by “permanently removing the statue from city property, [the city is] stepping in solidarity with [its] Chumash community,” according to the Star.
Ventura City Council Member Jim Friedman acknowledged the tough decision to remove the statue, but how it was done with strategic motivations.
Friedman explained the decision “is not allowing the mob to take over and rule our decisions. This is being smarter and … taking a statue that is potentially under attack out of harm’s way so it can be enjoyed by those people who love the statue for many, many generations to come,” according to the Star.
The Serra Retreat Center is currently closed to the public.