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An Epidemic of Church Desecrations Hits France by Hélène de Lauzun

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An Epidemic of Church Desecrations Hits France

Since the beginning of the year 2022, France has been the scene of a series of church desecrations throughout its territory. Since January 1st, at last count, no less than eight churches have been desecrated, and it is quite possible that there are others that have not yet been recorded.

The first acts of vandalism began in the days following New Year’s Eve. The hostilities began in Genouilly, in the Cher department. The Saint-Symphorien church was broken into, robbed, and desecrated on the weekend of January 1st and 2nd. The burglars stole a trunk, a monstrance, and broke the door of the tabernacle to steal two ciboria, which contained consecrated hosts.

A one-meter high statue of the Sacred Heart was thrown to the ground and broken in the church of Saint-Porchaire near Poitiers on Saturday, January 4th. In Poitiers itself, on January 6th, in the church of Sainte-Thérèse, six statues were decapitated. The head of the statue of the little Jesus, present in the crib of the church for the Nativity scene, was placed next to the rest of the body, in the straw. The vicar general of the diocese of Poitiers did not wish to comment on the subject; the damage done to the Church of Sainte-Thérèse was the subject of a police report, but was not mentioned in the local press.

On January 4th, the basilica of Saint-Denis, necropolis of the kings of France, was also the target of degradation. With a large iron bar, an individual broke three emblematic statues, those of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris and patron saint of France, Saint Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, and Saint Anthony. The vandal also damaged display cases housing religious objects for sale and the basilica’s Nativity scene. Given the importance of the building, there were more reactions of indignation, including a statement from the Duke of Anjou, pretender to the throne of France and descendant of the kings buried in the basilica. 

On January 7th, a church in the Paris suburb of Val-de-Marne was also the victim of a break-in, with, as in Genouilly, the theft of a trunk and a ciborium containing consecrated hosts. On January 8th, a statue of the Virgin Mary was destroyed in the church of Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux in Strasbourg, Alsace.

The department of Seine-Saint-Denis has been particularly hard hit by this wave of vandalism. In addition to the basilica of Saint-Denis, the small churches of Bondy and Romainville were also the object of attacks. On Sunday, January 10th, the church in Romainville had its tabernacle broken into, its sacristy looted of several sacred vessels, its sound equipment stolen and the trunk torn off. On Monday, January 11th, the church in Bondy was also damaged, with the tronc (alms box) ripped open and a stained glass window broken. This particular department suffers from a bad reputation in France. Known as the “9-3,” this department has the highest proportion of immigrants in metropolitan France, and one of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in the country.

The nature of these acts of vandalism differs in each case. They may be purely thefts to recover valuables, but the most serious thing is that these thefts are sometimes accompanied by acts of desecration, or deliberate and apparently gratuitous destruction. They testify to a general climate of hostility towards Catholic faith in France.

Apart from a few rare articles in the regional press and press organs stamped “on the right,” such as Valeurs Actuelles or Fdesouche.com, the French press has given very little coverage to this succession of acts of vandalism. Political reactions have been very timid, and it was not until January 12th that the Minister of the Interior, who is also the Minister of Religious Affairs in France, Gérald Darmanin, made an allusion on Twitter to the events of the previous days. This silence, or embarrassment, raises questions and contrasts with the speed of immediate public reaction to attacks on synagogues and mosques. The senator Valérie Boyer reiterated her request for the creation of a commission of inquiry on the desecration of places of worship and Christian cemeteries, which has so far remained without action. The phenomenon has become sufficiently important to be noted by the Vatican press office. Since the burning of Notre Dame in Paris, the subject has become extremely sensitive in French public opinion and has acquired a political dimension. In 2019, the Ministry of the Interior counted 1,052 anti-Christian acts on French territory, compared to 687 anti-Semitic acts and 154 attacks on Muslims.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).

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