Located in southwest France, the village of Tasque (pop. 211) boasts a single Catholic church, Eglise Saint-Pierre de Tasque, which until mid-May was closed for restoration. Just days after it reopened, however, vandals ransacked it.

According to a report published by the Vienna-based Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, the vandals desecrated the altar “through inscriptions,” and damaged chandeliers, furniture, and several statues.

The destruction was typical of scores of such incidents that take place every year in Europe, a continent whose record of anti-Christian, anti-Catholic attacks, and hate crimes point to a troubling worldwide rise of the sort of anti-Church intolerance, vandalism, and arson recorded this summer in Canada.

In Europe, in 2018 (the last year for which it compiled complete figures), the Observatory reported an increase “in the number of churches, Christian symbols, and cemeteries across Europe being vandalized, desecrated, and burned, compared to previous years.”

In all, the Observatory documented more than 325 hostile actions directed towards Christians in 2018—everything from the “smash” of physical attacks to the “squeeze” of interference with religious liberty.

Of particular concern to the Observatory were events in France, where a 285-percent increase in “anti-Christian incidents” was recorded over 10 years. An Observatory spokesperson, Ellen Fantini, told reporters that those responsible for the attacks in France were most often radical leftists, “radicalized Islamists,” and radical feminists.

The Observatory is a registered nongovernmental organization in Austria and a member of the Fundamental Rights Platform of the EU-Fundamental Rights Agency.

Other statistics support the Observatory’s concerns. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported in November 2020 that it documented almost 600 hate crimes against Christians in Europe in 2019, 76 per cent of which were attacks against property, and 10 percent of which were assaults against Christians.

The OSCE recorded at least 20 arson attacks against churches in France alone in 2019. Fourteen other incidents involved a tabernacle being broken into, with the hosts either thrown on the floor, destroyed, or stolen. One tabernacle was set ablaze.

On this side of the Atlantic, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reported in June that it had reported at least 75 attacks on Catholic properties since May 2020. The most common type of incident was destruction or decapitation of statues.

In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics reported in March of this year that attacks directed at Canadian Catholics increased every year from 2016-‘19 (see graph), bucking the trend that saw the number of hate crimes targeting all religious groups in this country decline in both 2018 and 2019.

J.P. Sonnen, a contributor to the B.C. Catholic who has studied in Europe and leads Catholic groups on tours of Europe, said in an e-mail interview that he believes that anti-Church attacks on both sides of the Atlantic are a manifestation of “a new barbarian invasion” that is taking advantage of the collapse of what is left of the Christian state in both Europe and North America. 

“The disease in Europe is essentially the same in Canada and Europe,” Sonnen said.

Concerned with the rising rate of anti-Catholic actions, the Catholic Civil Rights League plans to make public this fall a national database tracking incidents of anti-Church hate crime. In the meantime, CCRL executive director Christian Elia said in an interview that it is important to identify the enemy who is attacking the Church.

“It’s those who despise religion and organized religion, and the Roman Catholic faith is definitely an organized religion,” he said. “Our religious freedom is protected and enshrined in the Constitution and in the Charter, and that’s far more than the right to go to certain buildings once or twice a week. It’s the right to have the security to practice it freely.”

As well, Elia said it is important to remind civic leaders and the media about the severity of the problem. “These acts of violence are against the law,” Elia said. “They cannot be lumped in with civil disobedience to the same degree as holding a sign and picketing or protesting. It certainly can’t be normalized.”

“We can’t have a summer of violence where churches burn on a regular basis, and this [comes to be] known as the summer of burning churches.”