The Conference of French Bishops said there were 228 “violent anti-Christian acts” from January to March 2019.
In 2018, French police reported 129 thefts and 877 incidents of vandalism at Catholic sites, mostly churches and cemeteries. The French Minister of the Interior counted slightly fewer numbers of anti-Christian incidents that year.
Such attacks quadrupled in number from 2008 to 2019.
While France has suffered more attacks than any other country in Europe, their numbers have increased across Europe.
Some leaders downplay the attacks.
“We do not want to develop a discourse of persecution,” Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, the head of the French Bishops Conference, told the magazine Le Point. “We do not wish to complain.”
In June vandals toppled more than 100 tombstones in the main Catholic cemetery in Toulouse. The incident received little national press coverage, but locals too did not want to give it attention.
In Normandy in 2016, two men who professed allegiance to the Islamic State group murdered Father Jacques Hamel while he was celebrating Mass. That same year in Paris, police thwarted Muslim extremists who attempted to blow up a car near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Some feared anti-Christian sentiment was behind another Islamic State group sympathizer’s gun and knife attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg in 2018.
The backdrop of these and other major terrorist incidents have heightened fears that Christians would be more directly targeted.
The April 15 fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame shocked the world as the 19th-century roof and spire were destroyed, though the structure was saved from collapse.
As soon as the fire was reported, social media influencers and others with no presence on the scene spread speculation, rumors and even hoaxes claiming that the fire was an act of terrorism. Anonymous internet accounts as well as right-wing activists, nationalists, and white supremacists used the event to fan anti-Muslim sentiment, NBC News reported in April.
In June investigators said they had been unable to determine the cause and there was no evidence the fire was intentional. They said they would consider the possibility of negligence, including electrical malfunction or a poorly extinguished cigarette, as a cause for the fire.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Vandalism and attacks on Christian churches often appear to lack any organized coordination or shared motives.
Earlier this year, when six churches were set on fire or vandalized in one week, the perpetrators of one incident were two youths. The perpetrator in another was a 35-year-old homeless man.
Of identified perpetrators of anti-Christian attacks, more than 60 percent are minors. Many perpetrators “appear to be disaffected young people, or the psychologically disturbed or homeless, rather than members of organized groups advancing a political agenda,” Bernstein said.
“Virtually none of the reported attacks have been against people; they are all against buildings, cemeteries or other physical objects,” he added.
About 60% of vandalism incidents involved graffiti like satanic inscriptions, anarchist symbols, swastikas, or nationalist or neo-Nazi slogans. In Bernstein’s view, this “would seem to represent a kind of ugly desperate social fringe than a general growth of anti-Christian hatred.”
For Bernstein, the evidence shows attacks by Muslims “account for a small fraction of anti-Christian crimes.”