While the world watched flabbergasted at Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral erupting in flames Monday, the conflagration is only part a series of incidents that has seen the Catholic Church in France under attack and in a fight for survival.
France has seen a recent string of vandalism aimed at Catholic Churches lately, some of which occurred alongside desecration of sacred objects.
The fire at Notre Dame appears to be accidental and related to renovations of the 800 year church building, or at least that’s what we are told at this point. However, multiple terror attacks on the Cathedral have been thwarted in the past.
On March 17th, France’s second largest church, St Sulpice – which was where the film Da Vinci code was filmed, also saw a tragic fire. Police later stated that it was not an accident.
In one incident, a cross of human excrement was smeared on the wall of the Notre Dame des Enfants in Nimes, the altar at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur was set on fire, while statues and crosses were smashed : the perpetrators, in their teens – were later apprehended.
France is officially secular. While most French are nominally Catholic, less than 10% attend weekly mass according to a recent survey – part of a recent shift which characterizes most the western world.
Also, many Church buildings have been demolished by authorities recently, though this is mainly due to lack of attendance and subsequently declining finances. The Chapel of St.Martin in Sablé-sur-Sarthe was demolished to make way for a parking lot.
In 2016, news showed images of riot police dragging elderly priests out for protesting the demolition.
Embroiled in scandals over sexual abuse allegations and decline in membership and attendance, the Catholic Church in France and the rest of the world is going through a tumultuous period in its history.