Anti-Christian attacks rise in Europe

The fire that ripped through the Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes July 18 was reported around the world. But suspected arson attacks on French churches usually do not make international headlines.

Jul 25, 2020

PARIS: The fire that ripped through the Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Nantes July 18 was reported around the world. But suspected arson attacks on French churches usually do not make international headlines.

Since 2010, the Paris-based L’Observatoire de la Christianophobie (Observatory of Christianophobia) has chronicled anti-Christian incidents in France and around the world.

It has recorded these events month by month on interactive maps since 2017, placing them in six categories: arson, murder/assault, vandalism, theft, bombing, and abduction.

Following Saturday’s fire at Nantes, the organization has reported several less well-publicized incidents, including the destruction of a crucifix on the Île-d’Arz in Brittany, the slashing of paintings in a church in Auxerre, and the decapitation of a statue of the Virgin Mary in Montaud.

Statistics suggest there are nearly three such attacks a day in France, which is sometimes described as the “eldest daughter of the Church” because the Frankish King Clovis I embraced Catholicism in 496.

The French Interior Ministry recorded 996 anti-Christian acts in 2019 -- an average of 2.7 per day. The true figure may be higher, as it is thought that officials do not count fires of undetermined cause at churches across the country.

On July 4, for example, fire devastated the Parish of St. Paul in Corbeil-Essonnes. Investigators concluded that the blaze resulted from a gas leak caused by squatters, but locals questioned the official explanation.

Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute, told CNA that the spate of incidents had forced the French authorities to address the issue openly.

“Over the past two years, French government officials have started to talk about it more publicly, perhaps because the visibility of such attacks is now so great. Both President Emmanuel Macron and his new Prime Minister, Jean Castex, have, for instance, spoken clearly and forcibly about the recent attack on the cathedral in Nantes,” he said.

While the number of officially recorded anti-Christian incidents has remained steady over the past two years (1,063 in 2018 and 1,052 in 2019), it has risen by 285% between 2008 and 2019, according to Ellen Fantini.

Fantini, the director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe (OIDACE) in Vienna, said that the trend of rising attacks was not confined to France. OIDACE records attacks on Europe’s churches on its website, but official tallies are hard to come by.

“Most European countries do not provide statistics about anti-Christian incidents. Many don’t even record them as such. Another problem is that many church officials don't even report incidents -- they just sort of get on with it: clean up and move on,” she told CNA.

“Among countries that do report, those numbers are rising, as well. For example, according to the data provided to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) by the U.K., anti-Christian crimes doubled from 2017 to 2018. We know they are rising in Spain, Germany, and Sweden, as well.”

In England and Wales, the government is offering funding to places of worship facing potential hate attacks.

Asked why attacks are increasing, Fantini said: “This is a complicated question to answer because so often we don’t know the identity -- or even the ideological motivations -- of the perpetrators. Sometimes the motives are clear, but other times we have to make our best guess. As radicalized movements increase in both numbers and intensity, the number of attacks on churches seems to rise.”

She continued: “I have said before that churches are ‘lightning rods’ for activists. And each group has their own reasons for choosing to attack a church. Churches can represent ‘the patriarchy,’ ‘authority,’ ‘tradition,’ ‘homophobia,’ ‘the Christian West,’ etc. Islamists target churches for different reasons than anarchists, for example. But all of these groups are more and more active these days.”

“A further complicating problem is the unique nature of churches which tends to make them more vulnerable -- they’re open to the public during the day and they usually don’t have much, if any, security.”––CNA

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