There has been a marked increase in vandalism against Catholic churches and cathedrals throughout France. This violence has included arson and deliberate desecration of sacred symbols and artifacts housed in these Christian buildings.
Vandals have smashed statues, set fires, torn down crosses, and destroyed sacred artifacts housed in churches and cathedrals.
Earlier this year, there was a deliberately set fire at the historic Church of St. Sulpice in Paris just after midday mass on Sunday. This cathedral was built in the 17th century and houses works by the Romantic painter Eugene de la Croix.
St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles was vandalized with statues smashed and an altar cross thrown to the floor. Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur experienced arson when an altar cloth was burned while statues and crosses were destroyed.
In the southern France city of Nimes, vandals looted the altar of the Church of Notre-Dame des Enfants smearing a cross with excrement.
The Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe is a Vienna-based organization to document abuses against Christians in Europe. They note there has been a 25 percent increase in attacks on Catholic churches this year compared with the same time last year.
They note there have been over 500 “brutal attacks” and discriminatory acts against Christians in Europe in a 2018 report.
The executive director, Ellen Fantini, noted France in particular faces growing problems with anti-Christian violence, especially from anarchist and feminist groups.
I think there is a rising hostility in France against the church and its symbols [but] it seems to be more against Christianity and the symbols of Christianity.
These attacks are on symbols that are really sacred to parishioners, to Catholics. Desecration of consecrated hosts is a very personal attack on Catholicism and Christianity, more than spray painting a slogan on the outside wall of a church.
She also noted that while France has a long-term history of tolerant secularism, the new intolerance demonstrates an “attack on the church as a symbol of religion was also an attack on authority and patrimony.”
The pressure is coming from the radical secularists or anti-religion groups as well as feminist activists who tend to target churches as a symbol of the patriarchy that needs to be dismantled.
A quadrupling of Vandalism in France
The extent of the problem of church vandalism in France is very disturbing. The French police have recorded 129 thefts and 877 acts of vandalism at Catholic sites in France during 2018 – mostly churches and cemeteries. The French Ministry of the Interior counted a total of 875 anti-Christian incidents in 2018, with attacks on Christian sites quadrupling between 2008 and 2018.
Henry Lemoigne, the mayor of a town on the English Channel, told a Catholic magazine that about vandals who broke into the tabernacle of a local church and threw its contents on the floor apparently looking for something of value to steal. He noted that “People feel that their values are under attack, even their very being.”
But what is most odd is the quiet that has greeted these incidents from the popular press. They are, in fact, largely being ignored. Individuals including mayors of affects cities along with clerics have spoken out – but are largely ignored. A Catholic organization called The Observatory of Christianophobia publishes an almost daily story on Christian persecution.
Most major media outlets throughout France had downplayed the quadrupling of violence against Christians in France. Only the conservative Le Figaro has published any substantial reporting on the problem.
The magazine Causeur ran a series of articles on the anti-Christian attacks in France under the headling “Explosion of Anti-Christian Acts: The Victims that Nobody’s Talking About.”
But these latter examples are the exception rather than the rule. Most media outlets portray these incidences of violence as merely the result of lone miscreants acting out against a popular target. But the newspaper Le Figaro in March does not accept this narrative. They noted that
Vandalism in our churches: From simple graffiti to desecration. Stained glass windows broken, statues decapitated, graffiti on the walls — this is not the work of petty thieves.
The minimal reporting of anti-Christian bias in Europe helps explain why Americans are largely ignorant about this problem. They became more aware of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic violence as the fire largely destroyed Notre Dame in Paris. While that fire appears not to have been caused by arson, it did awaken many in Europe and the rest of the world to the extent of the problem.
Violence Leading to Murder
The world was shocked and horrified at several incidents of murder of Catholic targets in France. Two men proclaiming allegiance to the Islamic State murdered an 84-year-old priest, Jacques Hamel, while he was celebrating mass in a town in Normandy. This gave rise to fears that Catholics would become chosen targets by the Islamic State or other terrorist organizations.
Police foiled an attempt by Muslims to blow up a car near the Notre-Dame Cathedral, and a suspected Islamic extremist killed five people and seriously injured eleven others in a gun and knife attack of the Christmas market in Strasbourg.
The evidence suggests that Muslims are responsible for only a small percentage of the anti-Christian violence in France and elsewhere in Europe. Some allege the reason why anti-Christian violence has been downplayed is to reduce the incidence of largely undeserved Islamophobic throughout Europe.
Europe is becoming an increasingly secular continent and losing much of its commitment to religious worship. Also, there is a large contingent of non-Christian immigrants who are quite unfriendly to Christianity.
Certain subcultures are also vehemently anti-Christian such as feminists who view the Catholic Church as promoting patriarchy with only men being permitted to become priests.
Most Catholic Churches are unguarded during the day leaving themselves open to wanton vandalism and destruction. Many have priceless relics which hold great value to the faithful, but only disdain for the secular.
The Catholic Church holds many positions in opposition to the secular culture at large including its opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. They have remains firm in their religious convictions while many other Christian bodies have folded to outside pressure.
The escalating persecution of Christianity and Catholicism in particular likely will increase in future years as the continent of Europe becomes ever more secular and intolerant.