Almost 50 acts of vandalism were documented in February in what some see as a sign of "anti-religious intolerance."
There were almost 50 attacks and acts of vandalism against religious sites in France documented in the month of February, according to Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe. One of the worst occurred at the historic Basilica of Saint-Denis, just north of Paris. Someone entered the Gothic church, where French monarchs are buried, smashed a historic stained-glass window, and wrecked the organ and choir-stalls.
In Nimes, at the Church of Notre-Dame des Enfants, a cross was drawn on a wall with excrement, and pieces of consecrated Communion Hosts were stuck onto it. The tabernacle was broken and other consecrated hosts were destroyed in the February 5 action.
Nimes Bishop Robert Wattebled lamented that the faithful had been “hurt in their deepest convictions.”
“Under these conditions, worship can no longer be celebrated in this building until the profanation has been repaired by a penitential rite whose date is not yet fixed,” Bishop Wattebled said.
Several local religious communities—the Carmelites, Cistercians and Poor Clares of the Diocese—agreed to observe a day of prayer and fasting in reparation for acts of vandalism.
On February 23, the bas-relief on the altar of the Saint-Gilles church in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie was vandalized, with the Christ figure beheaded, the Observatory reported, saying it was the most recent incident in a series of attacks on churches in the Vendée region.
Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Vienna-based Observatory, told The Tablet that France was currently the “worst country in Europe” for “secularist, anti-religious intolerance” and was facing growing problems with anti-Christian actions by anarchist, feminist and Islamist movements.
“Although the motives aren’t always known, many are clearly aimed against Catholics,” said Fantini. The Observatory listed over 500 “brutal attacks” and discriminatory acts against Christians in Europe in a 2018 report.
The worst was the July 2016 killing of Fr. Jacques Hamel by Islamists in a Normandy church. On Tuesday, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen presided over the final session of the diocesan inquiry into the life and martyrdom of Fr. Hamel.
There is not much information on who might be behind the attacks, but a 35 year-old man has confessed to police that he carried out a February 10 attack at St. Nicholas Church in Houilles, Yvelines, throwing the tabernacle to the ground.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know who is responsible for these attacks, as the perpetrators haven’t left many clues as to their identities—especially compared to similar incidents in other countries where political or social slogans are used in graffiti,” Fantini said Tuesday, in an email to Aleteia. “We can surmise that the main actors are anarchist, feminist, and Islamist activists, based on what we’ve seen in the past in France.”