Since the beginning of 2019, France has seen a torrent of attacks which have included arson, vandalism, and desecration of a number of its historic Catholic churches.
The defacers have torn down crosses, knocked down tabernacles, smashed statues, and have destroyed the Eucharist, igniting fears of a rise in widespread anti-Catholic sentiment across the country.
On Sunday the 17th of March, just following midday mass, the historic Church of St. Sulpice in Paris was set ablaze, Le Parisien reported. Although nobody was injured, French authorities are currently still looking into the attack, which firefighters have attributed to arson.
First constructed in the 17th century, the Church of St. Sulpice is home to three paintings done by Eugene Delacroix, a French Romanic artist. The church was used in the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
According to the Catholic publication La Croix International, just last month, in north-central France at the St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles, a statue of the Virgin Mary was found smashed, and the churches altar cross had been hurled onto the ground.
In the same month, an altar cloth was burned and statues of saints and crosses were all smashed at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. Following the vandalism, the city’s Mayor, Bernard Canyon, in a public statement said, “God will forgive. Not me.”
In Nimes, a southern city located near the Spanish border, vandals smeared a cross with human excrement and looted the altar of the church of Notre-Dame des Enfants (Our Lady of the Children).
Consecrated hosts used in communion ceremonies, which are believed by Catholics to be the body of Jesus Crist, were found sprinkled among the trash outside of the church building.
Bishop Robert Wattebled of Nimes, in a statement given to the press, said, “This greatly affects our diocesan community. The sign of the cross and the Blessed Sacrament have been the subject of serious injurious actions.”
“This act of profanation hurts us all in our deepest convictions,” he added.
According to the leading Catholic magazine, The Tablet, since February alone, there has been a record high 47 documented attacks on church and religious sites.
The Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, which is based in Vienna, reported a 25 percent increase in attacks on Catholic churches in the first two months of 2019, compared to the same time period last year.
Ellen Fatini, the group’s executive director, told Newsweek that although the motive in many of these attacks was unknown, France was facing a growing problem of anti-Christian violence – especially by neo-feminist and left-wing anarchist groups.
She stated, “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.”
In her comments, she said that although France has had a long secular tradition, that it was undoubtedly a culturally Christian country, and that any “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,” Fatini continued.
On the 9th of February, the altar at the church of Notre-Dame in Dijon was also broken into. The vandals removed the hosts from the tabernacle and scattered crumbs across the floor.
French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe met with French church leaders to denounce the attacks. He said in a statement that, “In our secular Republic, places of worship are respected. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned.
Senior officials with the Catholic Church in France also have expressed their heartache at the rise in attacks and the defilement of symbols of their faith.