There’s a Devil Loose: Shattered Statues and Satanic Symbols Mark Rise in Attacks on French Church

The Saint-Jean Cathedral, foreground, and the Fourviere Basilica, top, are pictured in Lyon, central France, on March 7, 2019. (AP/Laurent Cipriani)

Sometimes it’s a cross of human excrement smeared on a church wall, with stolen Communion hosts stuck at the four corners. Other times, a statue of the Virgin Mary lies shattered on the floor.

Now and then, a fire breaks out in a house of prayer.

Roman Catholic churches have increasingly come under attack in France, a country so long identified with Christianity that it used to be called “the eldest daughter of the church.”

recent fire at St. Sulpice, the second-largest church in Paris, has shed light on a trend that has become commonplace in many smaller towns.

“Who has heard of the sacking of the monastery of Saint Jean des Balmes in Aveyron? Of those teenagers who urinated into the holy water font of the church at Villeneuve de Berg in Ardèche?” the Paris daily Le Figaro asked last week in an article highlighting some of the lesser-known profanations around the country this month.

Incidents such as these get a brief mention in the press, complete with quotes from Catholics shocked at the sight of scattered hosts or beheaded statues, and sometimes a short video clip on national television.

French firefighters extinguish flames during a recent fire at St. Sulpice Catholic Church in Paris. Video screenshot (RNS)

But apart from official denunciations of individual attacks, Catholic leaders in France have refrained from dramatizing what they say is a worrying trend.

The sharpest reactions have come from conservative politicians, including two National Assembly members who have called for a parliamentary inquiry into “the multiplication of anti-Christian acts.”

“The images of flames in Saint Sulpice church this weekend are one more example of the violence committed against Catholics,” Philippe Gosselin and Annie Genevard said, referring to the blaze in an edifice known to moviegoers around the world as the church in the film version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.”

Among attacks on churches in February, a cross of human excrement was found in the southern city of Nimes, a statue of Mary was smashed in a Paris suburb and a statue of Jesus decapitated in an Atlantic seaside resort with the very Christian name of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie (St. Giles, Cross of Life).

The attacks on Catholic churches and the muted reactions to them reflect the complex role France’s once dominant faith plays in a society that has changed so much that ignorance of religion — not only Christianity but others as well — is widespread.

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Source: NCR Online