Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff in the devastated Kreuzerhöhungskirche in Wissen, Germany, Feb. 15, 2023. / Credit: Archdiocese of Cologne
CNA Newsroom, Feb 21, 2023 / 07:48 am (CNA).
Following a devastating arson attack on a historic church in Germany — and several prior incidents in Paris, France — a European watchdog has raised concerns over hate crimes targeting Christian churches on the continent.
The 1,000-year-old Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, a community in the Westerwald region, was severely damaged by an arson attack on Feb. 10, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.
The parish priest in charge, Father Martin Kürten, described the attack as “arson directed with fearsome single-mindedness,” targeting the historic high altar and causing damage estimated to run to several million euros.
The attack also devastated the morale of the local community and left a deep “void,” the priest said. “What is scary is the single-mindedness and brutality with which the attacker proceeded,” he said.
The destroyed high altar of the historic Church of the Elevation of the Cross in Wissen, Germany, February 2023. Credit: Screenshot / SWR
German Police have arrested a 39-year-old man in connection with the attack, but authorities say his motives remain unclear, CNA Deutsch reported.
“How would you feel if you heard that your parish or the church you go to will have to suspend the service due to an arson and vandalism attack?” asked Madeleine Enzlberger, executive director of the Observatory for the Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians (OIDAC).
“Surely multiple questions come to mind like ‘Why would someone do this?’” Enzlberger added.
Auxiliary Bishop Ansgar Puff visited the church on Feb. 16, CNA Deutsch reported. “I share the grief of the people of Wissen,” he said.
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne announced he would visit the church on the first Sunday of Lent.
Attacks on churches in Paris
As the Vienna-based Observatory also noted, several churches in the French capital were attacked a few weeks earlier, according to French media reports.
Arson attacks were carried out against several churches between Jan. 17 and 25, according to the newspaper Le Parisien. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the attacks.
The Church of Notre-Dame-de-Fatima, located on boulevard Sérurier in Paris, was hit twice, on Jan. 17 and Jan. 22. According to a source close to the investigation, Le Parisien reported, the door of the building was sprayed with a flammable liquid. A fire was then started, using newspapers. The fire did not spread inside the building.
Shocked local politicians assured “priests and parishioners” of their solidarity, France3 reported.
A third attack, carried out Jan. 18, targeted the Church of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. Emmanuel Grégoire, first deputy mayor of Paris, said it was difficult to know if it was a single perpetrator. Noting the “antireligious context,” he announced improvements to security measures. French authorities are investigating.