France’s interior minister has vowed that the government would use all means to find and prosecute those who attack churches, mosques and other religious monuments.
Gérald Darmanin made the comment on October 5, one day after an attempted arson attack on a Catholic church near the city of Lyon.
“To attack a place of worship is a strike against the Republic,” the interior minister said.
His words echoed those expressed four years ago by the then-French President François Hollande after an elderly priest in Normandy was murdered while celebrating Mass.
“To kill a priest is to desecrate the Republic,” Hollande said after the July 26, 2016 slaying of Father Jacques Hamel.
Darmanin spoke to the press during a quick trip to Rillieux-la-Pape, a city of some 30,000 inhabitants about eight miles northeast of Lyon.
The city’s St. Peter Chanel Church is believed to have been the target of arsonists who, during the night of Oct. 3-4, set a dozen vehicles on fire.
One of the autos was expressly moved in front of the church, which resulted in blackening the facade of the modern building.
But thanks to the intervention of firefighters, who faced projectile fire upon arrival, only the church’s offices and meeting rooms were damaged.
“Christians are defended by the public authorities”
“All means are being put in place, including scientific means, to find the perpetrators of this unspeakable act,” Darmanin promised.
He called the violence “hooded mischief”.
The 38-year-old interior minister said additional police would be sent to the Lyon area, a clear show of firmness in the face of anti-religious acts that seem to be multiplying in the region.
“We have had at least 14 incidents of damage or thefts since the beginning of the year, including seven since the beginning of September,” said Christophe Ravinet, director of press relations for the Archdiocese of Lyon.
But he said these figures could be underestimated, since they only concern cases that parishes report to the archdiocese.
Bishop Michel Dubost, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, said the interior minister’s visit to Rillieux-la-Pape was “very important, because it showed Christians that they are defended by the public authorities”.
But Catholics are not the only ones experiencing such violence. In recent months, mosques in the Lyon metropolitan area have also been targeted by attempted fires.
Anti-Semitic tags were also found in Lyon’s historic center, while the front of a Protestant bookstore was covered with anti-Christian slogans.
“A desire by some to set religious communities against each other”
“What’s happening in our good city of Lyon, which has been going through difficult times since this summer?” asked Kamel Kabtane, rector of the city’s grand mosque.
He said anti-religious insults spiked on social media during the coronavirus lockdown, but now the hatred is being transformed into acts.
“The odious act of Rillieux-la-Pape confirms that there is a desire by some to set religious communities against each other,” the Muslim leader lamented.
He said the attack on St. Peter’s is all the more “insidious”