Catholics come under attack – churches burnt, priest assaulted, websites hacked
Christianity is currently going through a difficult period in Europe. This was acknowledged in the latest report on Religious Freedom in the World produced by Aid to the Church in Need, which expressed concern about the status of religious freedom in Europe. Increasingly the right of the Church to enter into public debate, the right of the faithful to practice conscientious objection and even the right of people to carry religious symbols is being questioned.
The attack on religious freedom starts with the attack on freedom of expression. A group of Christian legal experts warn that a rising tide of EU law targeting hate speech is leading to pastors being investigated and freedom of speech for Christians increasing being hampered. ADF International – a global partner of Alliance Defending Freedom that advocates for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family around the world – says European Union legislation is increasingly hampering Christians ‘ ability to discuss issues such as sexuality and sharing the Gospel.
Paul Coleman, Senior counsel and deputy director at ADF International, said “When we start restricting the speech of citizens, when we start seeing private citizens in conversation becoming the [subject] of a police complaint and a court hearing, we are not safe.” In some cases, church leaders and preachers across Europe have faced police investigations for speaking on certain topics. These included a Swedish minister being prosecuted for hate speech about sexuality, Catholic bishops being investigated by police over comments about marriage and the family, and people in the UK being arrested for street preaching.
Paul Coleman added: “Christians should be at the forefront of defending freedom of speech. I think that freedom of speech is necessary for all citizens and very important for Christians because we have a mandate to share the Good News…. and if that freedom starts getting restricted then we could soon find ourselves unable to speak freely from the pulpit on a Sunday morning and, ultimately, unable to freely live out the Gospel mandate.”
Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, archbishop of Valencia, came under attack for what he said in a keynote speech at the Spanish headquarters of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The Cardinal denounced the attempt to “impose a gender ideology with unfair laws which we should not obey.” He also noted that there was an “escalation against the family by political leaders, aided by other powers such as the gay Empire and certain feminist ideologies.”
The LGBT community rebelled and filed a criminal complaint against the archbishop for inciting hatred against homosexuals and feminists. The Valencian Cortes (local parliament) organized a debate to censor the Cardinal’s speech and even said that he did not put into practice the teachings of Pope Francis. This led the Cardinal to write an open letter to the diocese, complaining of the summary judgment he had been subjected and lamenting the lack of religious freedom. He stated: “They also manipulated the Holy Father to use it against me. I’m not racist, homophobic or sexist. I accept everyone and not exclude anyone because I firmly believe in the Lord. But I try and proclaim the truth and justice, even at the cost of being unpleasant.”
In recent weeks, Catholics in France and Belgium – countries still recovering from brutal ISIS attacks – have been hit with numerous acts of violence and aggression, including fires set in churches, an assault on a priest, the desecration of a tabernacle and the hacking of more than 100 Catholic websites. The altar of the Church of St. Madeleine-de-l’Ile in Martigues, about 800 kilometers south of Paris was set on fire. “The altar…is marble, which prevented the fire from spreading. I can’t imagine what would have happened with a wooden altar. The consequences for our church would have been tragic,” said local priest Father Benoît Delabre, who was also attacked by someone trying to steal from the church. The tabernacle in the Jonquieres church, which is located in the same region, was desecrated in May. These are not isolated incidents. The mayor of Martigues, Gaby Charroux, stated that “thefts of all kinds in French churches are becoming more frequent.”
In Belgium, two fires destroyed the 16th century church in Mont-Sainte-Geneviève on 24 May. The first one began in the sacristy. The fire fighters had barely left the scene after managing to control that fire when another much bigger fire in the church roof was reported. The arsonists are still being hunted by the police.
Christians are also being attacked online – more than 100 websites of churches and religious congregations were hacked by suspected Tunisian cyber-jihadists who call themselves the Fallaga Team.