A year-end report from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is calling attention to scores of priests and religious sisters who have been abducted, arrested, or killed in 2022. ACN recorded more than 100 instances of violence, detainment, and even murder in nations around the world, with Nigeria, China, and Nicaragua considered as some of the regions that were most dangerous to Catholic leaders.
Nigeria was found to be the country with the highest mortality rate for priests, as four clerics were murdered in 2022. In Mexico, three priests were slain in June by members of drug cartels; and two more priests were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In total there are nine confirmed murders of priests worldwide this year, but this tally may rise, because there are still several abducted priests whose whereabouts and safety are unknown.
On the side of women religious, there were five sisters who lost their lives in 2022 while in pursuit of their missions. These travesties occurred in Haiti, South Sudan, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kidnappings of Catholic priests persisted throughout the year, tallying in at 42 — or around one every eight days. While 36 of those abducted have been released, there were three who were murdered and there are still some who remain unaccounted for. ACN noted that there are still two Nigerian priests and a missionary from Germany who are in captivity. These, along with two priests who were abducted in 2019 and remain in captivity, brings the total of priests unaccounted for up to five.
In a breakdown of abductions by nation, Nigeria once again was found to have the most offenses, with 28 kidnappings in 2022. These abductions continue to persist, with three occurring in December. Nigeria was found to have had far more occurrences of priest abductions than any other nation, with Cameroon being the only other country that came close, with six abductions. Haiti was just behind Cameroon, with five abductions.
The most occurrences of the kidnappings of religious sisters was also found in Nigeria, where seven nuns were taken throughout the year. All of these religious women have thankfully been released.
The ACN report concluded with a look at government persecution of Catholic leaders in 2022. ACN found 32 instances of priests who have been detained and charged with crimes. One of the most recent cases was seen in the war in Ukraine, where four priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church were arrested in Russian-occupied territories. Two of these have been deported back to Ukraine, but the other two remain imprisoned on possible charges of terrorism.
Nicaragua too was found to be a hotbed of clerical arrest, with 11 cases of clergy being detained by the government, which is currently in conflict with the Catholic Church. These include two seminarians, a deacon, a bishop, and seven priests. Meanwhile the Nicaraguan government is preventing at least 10 priests from returning from travels abroad.
ACN noted that in China, the underground nature of the Church prevents the organization from recording precise numbers of arrests. Clerics in the underground Chinese Church are routinely abducted by the state and held until they agree to conform to the state-approved church. The report cites 10 priests who disappeared between January and May of 2022.
The report concluded with a plea to world governments to do more in order to guarantee the safety and freedom of religious practice. They also asked for prayers for those religious leaders who remain in captivity or who went unaccounted for in 2022.