The Marion County Sheriff’s office said that Steven Shields deliberately drove his vehicle through the doors of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala at 7.30am as the congregation prepared for Mass.
He then got out of the car, poured gasoline around the foyer and set it on fire, before driving off.
Deputy Josue Gonzalez spotted Mr Shields’ vehicle and gave chase, ramming it with his patrol car, according to a statement by the sheriff’s office.
There were no injuries reported at the church and the fire was extinguished by Marion County firefighters, though there was extensive damage to the building.
Mr Shields has been charged with attempted second-degree murder; arson to a structure of a structure believed to be occupied; burglary of an occupied structure using a motor vehicle; and felony fleeing.
He is being held in the Marion County Jail without bond. His motive is unclear, but Fox 51 reports that he told deputies that he is schizophrenic and off his medication and was on a mission.
Sheriff Billy Woods said: “Our freedom of worship granted in the Constitution is a freedom that we all hold dear. My deputies and I are sworn to protect that right and will always ensure our citizens can worship in peace.”
He added: “I’m proud of my deputies for capturing this man so quickly and we appreciate the assistance from all of the state and federal agencies that worked alongside of us during this investigation.”