Christians in France see ‘worrying’ surge in hate crimes

By Chris Eyte |
Roman Catholic Church of Sainte-Thérèse in Poitiers
Roman Catholic Church of Sainte-Thérèse in Poitiers | Amateur photo featured in La Nouvelle Republic

Bereft parishioners in a French town found a statue of Mary beheaded and church benches set ablaze on Tuesday (May 14), less than two months after a report surfaced of nearly 1,000 hate-crimes against Christians last year in France. 

Local firefighters put out the fire before removing the charred benches and chairs from the Roman Catholic Church of Sainte-Thérèse in Poitiers, reported La Nouvelle République. There was soot damage to the walls, floors and artifacts, all requiring specialized cleaning.

The Rev. Albert Jadaud, who in July celebrates 50 years in the priesthood, noticed nothing suspicious when he arrived at 8:30 a.m. that day. 

“At 11 a.m. I had an appointment with a fire safety officer,” Jadaud told La Nouvelle République. “We opened the sacristy and, just as I wanted to go to the choir, he told me not to come. The church was full of smoke. As he’s a former Paris fireman, he took the necessary measures.”

The church temporarily closed to the public, and the incident forced a funeral service to relocate to Migné-Auxances. 

It was not the first time vandals have targeted the church building, as a church official in 2022 found other decapitated statues. 

The vandalism followed a report of nearly 1,000 hate crimes against followers of Christ in France in 2023, according to an official from the French Ministry of Interior. 

On March 20, France’s Ministry of the Interior and Overseas published statistics showing that racist, xenophobic or anti-religious crimes and offenses increased by 32 percent in 2023. The publication did not specify how many of those were anti-Christian hate crimes. 

Camille Chaize, a spokeswoman for the ministry, confirmed almost 1,000 known anti-Christian hate crimes an interview with French Christian radio station Responding to a question from the radio host about incidents affecting Christians, she said 90 percent of them targeted properties such as church buildings and cemeteries. The remaining 10 percent involved attacks on 84 Christians, according to Chaize, although it was not clear if the assaults were verbal or physical. 

The Ministry of the Interior, which issued the original report that Chaize cited, stated that, as in previous years, “the majority of these crimes and offenses as well as these fines, recorded by the security services, are insults, provocations or defamation (61 percent of offenses and almost all of the fines).”

In total, national police and gendarmerie services recorded 15,000 offenses of an anti-religious, racist or xenophobic nature in 2023. 

As a result, authorities nationwide mobilized 10,000 security forces for Holy Week at Easter, according to the Observatory for Intolerance and Hatred Against Christians in Europe (OIDACE). 

Despite the lack of specificity from the French government on the nature of the anti-Christian hate crimes, the increase in such incidents in recent decades remains “concerning,” said Anja Hoffmann, executive director of OIDACE. Christians from the country have reported both violence and pressure from different sources, Hoffmann told Christian Daily International.

“On the one hand, the French laicité often translates into a radical secularism demanding an exclusion of religion from the public sphere and one’s job, which can amount to restrictions of religious freedom,” Hoffmann said. “On the other hand, there are certain areas classified as neighborhoods under the influence of radical Islam where being a Christian or a Christian convert is often met with intimidation, discrimination or violence.” 

OIDACE recorded “quite worrying cases of anti-Christian hate crimes in France” since the beginning of this year, she said. This includes five arson attacks, several cases of severe vandalism and the defacing of public crosses and even a cemetery with Islamist writings that included the slogan, “Today is the land of infidels, tomorrow the land of Islam.” 

Hoffmann said that French police have ramped up security around Christian festivals such as Easter because of the worrying trend for church buildings and celebration feasts “to become targets for terrorism and violence in the country.”

“According to French police data from the past years, anti-Christian hate crimes amount to almost three incidents per day, with a rather stable number of around 1,000 anti-Christian hate crimes recorded per year,” she added.

May 21, 2024 correction: an earlier image featured in this article showed St George’s Church in Descartes in France that was not a target of hate crime.