The city of Nantes, the historic capital of the Dukes of Brittany and a dynamic metropolis in the west of France, is acquiring notoriety for the epidemic of violent crime threatening its inhabitants. Understandably, some residents are relocating to safer cities. Now, two Catholic nuns have announced their decision to leave because the living conditions have become too dangerous.
Members of the Benedictine Fraternity, Sister Agathe and Sister Marie-Anne, have spoken at length on social media about the reasons for their choice. “For us, over time, it has become too tiring,” explain the two nuns. The “climate of insecurity” has become too heavy.
When we are in the Holy Cross Church, we are always on the alert, always ready to react to any lack of respect for the place, the people or the celebration that takes place there.
In the past year especially, several places of worship in France have been targeted by vandals, and priests and religious have been victims of intimidation or acts of violence, but this is the first time that consecrated persons have felt compelled to abandon their apostolate.
In 2017, also in the Holy Cross Church, a man armed with a pistol held up a priest during Mass, fortunately without opening fire. The nuns, who report many other “situations of overflow of violence,” say that they have sought solutions, notably by asking the police and social services—but their efforts have been in vain.
“It is because we have ‘tried everything’ that we can say that we cannot do ‘more’,” they write. The two sisters have indeed tried everything, even taking self-defence classes, but an environment of alcohol, drugs, and violence permeates their daily relationships. “We are not the Franciscans of the Bronx,” they say, referring to the famous community whose vocation was to settle in the underbelly of New York City, in the midst of gangs and misery.
Nantes is the sixth largest city in France. For a long time, its mayor, a former prime minister—the socialist Jean-Marc Ayrault—allowed the situation to deteriorate considerably because of a lax attitude to the city’s social problems. Today, the current mayor, a socialist named Johanna Rolland, follows the lead of her destructive predecessor.
In September 2022, a demonstration of a thousand citizens was organised to protest a rape, a police officer hit by a scooter, the discovery of the charred body of an eighteen-year-old man, and a shooting, all crimes that happened within a few days of each other. These acts of appalling violence have become almost familiar to the inhabitants of Nantes. The mayor has pushed the blame to the national level, complaining of a lack of means allocated to justice.
The peaceful and—almost—silent departure of the two women who have dedicated their lives to God is causing a stir, both locally and nationally, because of its highly emblematic character. Seeing two Catholic nuns leave the field in this way feeds the argument shared by many on the Right who feel themselves dispossessed by France.
The two sisters are the spokespersons for a phenomenon that is much broader than their simple personal experience: that of the moral impoverishment of French society, with impunity for a few who no longer fear God or the Devil. “Those who create this climate of insecurity have not changed their behaviour with the arrival of the police,” the two women lament.