The more than a thousand attacks on French churches in the past year are not evidence of “Catholicphobia” in the country, a sociologist has said.

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“I don’t think they should be seen as having a chiefly ‘anti-religious’ connotation”, philosopher, sociologist of religions and director of the magazine Esprit Jean-Louis Schlegel told SIR, offering his opinion on the wave of profanations.

Schlegel was speaking just after vandals targeted on November 9 the church of Saint-Etienne in Tonnay-Charente, in the Charente-Maritime department.

In that attack, the tabernacle was destroyed, Hosts were scattered, a monstrance was stolen and the Holy Cross was turned upside down.

Before that, on the night of November 3-4, robbers stole sacred items from the Cathedral of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, in what the local bishop called a “sacrilegious robbery”.

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The attacks on the churches in Tonnay-Charente and Oloron-Sainte-Marie are two more to add to the French Interior Ministry’s tally of the 1,063 anti-Christian incidents it recorded in 2018, up from 1,038 in 2017.

But Schlegel was sceptical that the desecrations are necessarily anti-Catholic in motivation.

“There are many atheists and anti-clericals in France, but they would never think of desecrating churches, destroying tabernacles, scattering the wafers, or smashing statues”, the sociologist said.

“In my view the ‘profanations’ are mainly attributable to individuals or gangs who look for valuable objects in (poorly kept and badly guarded) churches: chalices, ciboriums, statues and sculptures, paintings, which they can sell to antique dealers, possibly collectors, as a way of making money”, he continued.

Schlegel said the vandals in many cases too could be addicts looking for valuable items to sell to fund their next high.

“In this case, they disguise their crime by transforming the real motives (theft) into desecration”, the philosopher said.

“In my opinion, Catholics who immediately sound the ‘profanation alarm’ are wrong”.

Why it matters

While Schlegel didn’t deny that “Catholicphobia” exists in France, he said “it is expressed above all in the media, on television, in books”.

“I would like to underline the fact that synagogues and mosques, as well as Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, face the same situation and in that case we are dealing with racist or anti-Semitic acts”, the sociologist pointed out.

“Why churches? Perhaps because, notwithstanding widespread secularization and a much less visible Catholic Church, these remain important symbolic places”, Schlegel suggested.

He added that the solution to the desecration problem was to make sure churches, “often closed and not guarded”, are “better protected”.

Even though surveillance systems are expensive, and there are few Catholics left in France to pay for them, churches built before 1906 are municipal property, Schlegel recalled.

“It would be helpful if the mayors controlled them, especially when inside there is still something that could be stolen”, the sociologist recommended.

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