In an alarming disclosure, every two weeks, a religious structure in France vanishes—primarily due to arson and vandalism.
His alarm came after a fire on April 15 in Romilly-la-Puthenaye, Normandy, northern France, which destroyed the 16th-century Church of Saint-Pierre, exactly two years after a fire destroyed much of Paris’ famous Notre Dame Cathedral.
The iconic image of the burning cathedral, which swept the globe in 2019, revealed a deeper problem in French society: There are significant flaws in the protection system for religious monuments, as well as the rising anti-religious sentiment.
In an interview with Catholic News Agency, Lamaze said that, in addition to one religious building disappearing every two weeks due to demolition, transformation, fire, or collapse, two-thirds of holy building fires were caused by arson.
“Although Catholic monuments are still ahead, one mosque is erected every 15 days in France, while one Christian building is destroyed at the same pace,” Lamaze said. “It creates a tipping point on the territory that should be taken into account.”
The majority of the monuments torn down were Catholic. In France, where Catholicism still represented “a huge majority,” there were around 45,000 Catholic “places of worship.”
According to the most recent estimates from France’s central criminal intelligence agency, there were 877 attacks on Catholic places of worship in 2018.
“These figures have increased fivefold in only 10 years,” Lamaze said, adding that 129 churches were vandalized in 2008.
Lamaze said that two or more Christian monuments were targeted every day on average.
Currently, 5,000 Catholic structures were in danger of being demolished. Apart from the growing hatred and indifference directed at them, these religious sites were often subjected to gross negligence by the responsible government officials.
“These buildings have not been maintained for over a century, and they have never been subject to restoration work or protection measures against theft or fire,” Lamaze said.
Just 15,000 Catholic sites were officially preserved as historical landmarks, he said, while the remaining 30,000 structures were left to rot.
Even though French cathedrals have had a special status and were state-owned, they have not been spared in the recent wave of fires that have ravaged Catholic sites.
In 2019, a fire at the Cathedral Saint-Alain of Lavaur in Tarn, Southern France, was preceded by a fire at Notre-Dame de Paris, and in 2020, fires at the cathedrals of Rennes and Nantes.
“The current minister of culture is seeking to establish a protection charter, but the situation is extremely serious and, alas, I don’t see any real awareness growing, nor any sense of responsibility in the face of this crucial challenge for our national heritage,” Lamaze said.
He continued: “Fires are also sharply increasing because buildings are more and more dilapidated, and this negligence also attracts a lot of thefts of paintings, statues, or gold chalices.”
“It is enough to make you cry!” he added.