Man charged with setting fire to a historic Catholic church in Southern California

A man has been charged with setting on fire a historic Catholic church in Southern California last summer, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The San Gabriel Mission was undergoing renovations to mark its 250th anniversary when a fire broke out July 11, engulfing the roof and front entrance of the church.

Firefighters forced entry to tame the blaze, breaking parts of the roof and ceiling, officials said. No one was hurt in the fire.

John David Corey, 57, faces multiple charges, including two felony counts of arson of an inhabited structure and first-degree burglary, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday in a statement.

Corey, also known as Joker, is accused of “starting the fire which spread to the to the roof and along the length of the church,” prosecutors said in the statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Corey has an attorney. A date for Corey’s arraignment has not been set.

The massive fire left the church with heavy damage to the roof and considerable smoke and water damage to the sanctuary area, officials said.

“The loss to the mission was in the millions of dollars but the loss to the community is immeasurable,” District Attorney George Gascón said in the statement.

The San Gabriel Fire Department is still investigating the fire, prosecutors said.

The church, which is nearly 11 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was the center of a polarizing controversy surrounding statues of St. Junipero Serra, a Spanish priest who began the building of missions that line California and remain a tourist attraction.

But his statues have become symbols of violence and oppression to Native American populations. Spanish armies and Catholic missionaries imposed their religion on Indigenous people when they came to take the West.

Activists across California toppled Serra’s statues amid racial injustice protests last summer.

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