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Pope Francis condemns slaying of French priest

A policeman secures the position in front of the city hall after two assailants had taken five people hostage in the church at Saint-Etienne-du -Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy
A policeman secures a position in front of the city hall after two assailants took five people hostage in the church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen in Normandy, France, July 26, 2016. The attackers killed a priest and seriously wounded another hostage before being shot dead by police. Courtesy of REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis condemned the murder of an elderly French priest, calling it a “barbarous killing” as the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the brutal attack at a Catholic Church in northern France.

Armed men burst into the church in the small town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy and slit the throat of the Rev. Jacques Hamel as he was celebrating Mass before a smattering of mostly elderly Catholics on Tuesday (July 26).

The slain priest, who was in his mid-80s, was one of several people taken hostage by the two attackers, who authorities said had claimed to be from Daesh, the Arabic term for the Islamic State group.

One of the other hostages was reportedly in critical condition late Tuesday, and both assailants were shot and killed by security forces, French officials said.

Rev. Jacques Hamel, slain in an attack on Tuesday, July 26, in an attack in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Frances. Courtesy of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish.

The Rev. Jacques Hamel, slain in an attack on Tuesday in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Frances. Courtesy of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray parish

Pope Francis expressed his “pain and horror over this absurd violence with the most radical condemnation of all forms of hatred and prayers for those affected” in a statement issued by the Vatican’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

“We are particularly shocked because this horrible violence took place in a Church, where God’s love is proclaimed, with the barbarous killing of a priest and the involvement of the faithful,” Lombardi said.

The attack comes one day before Francis leaves Rome to attend World Youth Day, a Catholic youth festival in Poland.

French President Francois Hollande said ISIS was behind the attack, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls called it “a barbaric attack on a church.”

“The whole of France and all Catholics are wounded. We will stand together,” he added.

It was the latest in a string of deadly terrorist attacks in Europe in the past couple of weeks, including the Bastille Day attack in the French city of Nice and killings in several places in Germany.

The imam of the mosque in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray said he was “appalled by the death of my friend,” according to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

“He gave his life for others,” the imam, Mohammed Karabila, was quoted as saying. “We are shocked here at the mosque.”

Hamel was an auxiliary priest in the parish and was filling in for the regular parish priest, who had just left on vacation, The New York Times reported.

He was ordained in 1958 and had celebrated his golden jubilee in 2008, according to the diocesan website.

The titular parish priest, the Rev. Auguste Moanda-Phuati, told the French broadcaster RTL that Hamel had refused to retire at age 75, as the church allows, because of the shortage of Catholic clergy in France.

“He was a courageous priest at his age. He still felt strong,” said Moanda-Phuati, who, according to French press reports, is Congolese.

The Islamic State group issued a statement saying the church attack was carried out by two “soldiers” from the group, which has claimed responsibility for inspiring a number of brutal terror attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe.

The killing signaled what could be a new phase in the battle against the group since it has not previously targeted Christian sites in Europe.

The Vatican has long been on a state of high alert for threats against the pope. And Christians in the Middle East have increasingly been subject to vicious attacks by Islamic radicals.

On social media, there was an oupouring of support with the hashtag #JeSuisCatholique and #JeSuisPrete ( I am Catholic, I am priest) in several languages. 

The archbishop of Rouen, Monsignor Dominique Lebrun, confirmed the priest’s death.

“I cry out to God, with all men of good will. And I invite all non-believers to unite with this cry,” he said in a statement. “The Catholic Church has no other arms besides prayer and fraternity between men.”

Conservative Guinean prelate Cardinal Robert Sarah said he was praying for the victims and for France and asked in a tweet: “How many more dead before European governments understand the situation in which the West finds itself? How many more decapitated heads?”

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich expressed his sorrow in a tweet:

“The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with the people of #Rouen, France; we offer our prayers for healing and peace in this time of great sorrow.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference in the U.K. and Wales, joined Muslim leaders in a joint statement condemning the attack.

 “We are deeply saddened and shocked by the brutal murder. To commit murder at a place where people gather in peace to worship adds another layer of depravity to the violence that we have witnessed over the past weeks.

“We pray for the courage to respond to all evil with truth, justice, and reconciliation.”

The Italian Bishops’ Conference said the attack had provoked “upset and concern” but urged people not to give in to “closure or revenge,” while an Italian regional political leader, Roberto Maroni, described the murdered priest as a “martyr of faith” and urged the pope to proclaim him a saint as soon as possible.


(Josephine McKenna is an RNS correspondent based in Rome)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • True Religious people all condemn hatred for one’s fellow man, Using jihad as a free ticket to parricide is an affront to all that is sacred, remember that the greatest mass murders in history had no connection to the religious,Hitler, Poe Pot, Stalin and Mao. As a Latter Day Saint(Mormon) I stand with those who pray for all the victims of the misguided and for the misguided also.

  • Once again, repeating stuff that isn’t true.

    Hitler claimed he was Christian. He said repeatedly that nazism was a Christian movement. Germany was Christian before, during, and after the holocaust. European antisemitism was promulgated by 1900 years of European antisemitism. You should read the documents from germsny’s Lutheran church at the time. Nazism was just the endpoint.

    Pol pot and Mao were both Buddhists. Stalin started out as a priest wannabe. None of them killed anyone in the name of atheism, but in the name of the state and in the name of fascism. There are, however, a great many similarities between these movements and religion

  • Concerning Hitler’s Christianity, it’s worth pointing out that the Wehrmacht’s slogan (from the Prussian era all the way through to the end of World War II) was “Gott mit uns” (i.e. “God with us”). And the Lutheran Church in Germany was nationalized by the Nazis and known as Die Reichskirche (i.e. the “National Reich Church”).

    Re: “There are, however, a great many similarities between these movements and religion”

    Well said! It’s worth pointing out that the architects of the ideology known as “fascism” were Italian (and very Catholic) priests. Also, the founder of “Austrofascism,” Engelbert Dollfuss, had earned a degree from a Catholic seminary. And Jozef Tiso, who ruled Slovakia under the auspices of the Nazis after they absorbed the Czech lands, was a priest (actually, a monsignor). Catholicism was intricately bound up in fascism, that’s undeniable.

  • Thanks for the gott mit uns reminder.
    I wish had kept those Lutheran Church documents on the time before the holocaust that I had dug up. Truly chilling. Like cotton Mather piously discussing witches, or Savonarola or Torquemada describing what ought to be done with heretics.
    nothing like the god-inflamed to put you down the path of horror.

  • Heck, you could also look at the writings of that sect’s founder! Martin Luther penned a nasty treatise denouncing Jews. It’s called On the Jews and Their Lies (originally, Von den Jüden und iren Lügen). I’d link to a copy of it on the Web, but RNS will block my comment if I do.

    Apparently, German Jews offended Luther by insolently refusing to convert to Christianity in light of his reform movement, so he turned on them — viciously. He advocated the destruction of synagogues and Jewish schools, and agitated for German princes to expel Jews from their domains, which some of them did. Yeah, he was a marvelously holy character. No?

  • a charmer in all ways.
    but those documents from the Nazi era are far more important. They showed that the church, or at least a good portion of it, agreed with hitler. Luther, to his credit, though he had been dead for nearly 400 years, did not.

  • but we do not have the pope who is capable of understanding as to how to initiate and organize one!!!!

  • We’ve already discussed some of the things listed in your interchange with PsiCop so I won’t return to them here. Apart from official statements from politicians and clergy, and the question of competing religious philosophies, we can, I think, and should take time for a moment to mourn a man who was fulfilling his spiritual duties as he saw them, without harm or reference to anyone else. His death was an unjust act and his murderers have paid the price for it. Believe it or not, I mourn for them as well.

  • Doesn’t have to be the Pope. I didn’t mean a Catholic Crusade I meant a World crusade against ISIS and all the other Muslim terror groups. Until the World recognizes the Muslim goal is to make the world Muslim then these kinds of acts will continue. The world needs to stop being so ignorant and naive and trusting of Muslims. The so called moderate Muslims will stab you in the back the first chance they get. it’s in the Koran

    I mean what the heck is a “moderate Muslim”? They will only cut your head off instead of blowing you up. There ain’t no such thing as a moderate Muslim.

  • Had anyone noticed how really small scale and amateurish terrorism has become as of late?

    It’s not hijackings or bombing campaigns anymore. It’s a bunch of guys with guns, knives or a rental truck. For people allegedly trying g to take over the world, this is small potatoes. Even counterproductive.. For people trying to create anti Muslim hysteria, it’s becoming greatly effective.

    Islamophobes and ISIS have the same goal and arguments. That the West hates Muslims and will never treat them as human beings.

  • “I mean what the heck is a “moderate Muslim”? They will only cut your head off instead of blowing you up. There ain’t no such thing as a moderate Muslim.”

    Funny, ISIS says the same exact thing! It’s like you are on their payroll.

  • Because you are too thick to realize you are parroting Islamicist recruiting propaganda.

    Both you and ISIS deny the existence of moderate Muslims. Both you and ISIS claim all Muslims are expected to follow the extremists. Both you and ISIS have a disdain for freedom of religion and civil liberties.

    You are doing the work for ISIS either intentionally or because you are too ignorant to know better.

  • You’re right about Luther himself being centuries in the past. I don’t dispute that at all. But it’s worth realizing that both Luther and the Nazis were the products of an anti-Semitic undercurrent that has seethed within Christendom for nearly two millennia. The Nazis and their thinking — as well that of Luther long before them — did not just pop out of a vacuum. They were the products of an ancient tradition of hate.

  • As I said in an earlier posting, it began in the gospel of John and the book of acts, and marched it’s merry, deadly way right down to the present day.

    “God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew!” Said F. Bailey Smith, president of the SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION. 1977.

  • You hate freedom and the American way of life. At the first sign of trouble you want to trash what gives out nation it’s strength.

    If you are really concerned about Islamic fundamentalists overthrowing our way of life, then defend our 1st amendment! Defend the right of all people of religious faiths. Defend the separation of church and state.

    You aren’t fighting terrorism. You are enabling it. You are making situations which encourage their recruiting, which expand the communities they can hide in, you are furthering their goals. You are worse than a terrorist or a collaborator. You are a dupe playing into their hands. Someone too thickheaded to realize you are being played by the people you oppose.

  • You are correct with respect to “moderate muslims” .. there is no such thing … after the muslim is permitted to live in a non muslim country only if he is actively pursuing the conquest of the infidels. As for your “world crusade” .. this is total nonsense. What basis can the “word” find to fight islam? NONE!!!! “world” has never wanted to be free and always enslaved!
    see or do a search for :

  • You miss the point. Nothing the terrorists are doing these days does anything to further a real goal.

    The professional terrorists of the 60’s – 80’s acted for something besides creating mayhem for its own sake.

    Edifices of their enemies were attacked, money extorted, prisoners released, international notoriety was gained. Governments were embarrassed. In comparison, there is nothing the current batch of amateurs does toward a stated goal. It’s all pretty pointless.

    That is unless the goal is to sow fear and mistrust of all Muslims. To encourage discrimination and repression of Muslims. Which radicalizes populations. Then they are being successful. Your reaction is exactly the kind of anti democratic, anti freedom nonsense the terrorists want to instill. How does it feel to be enabling terrorism?

    “Where is the Muslim Communities condemnation of these attacks. I don’t hear any.”

    Because you are not bothering to look. The statements are all over the news.

  • A question for you anti-Muslims, all-Muslims-are-terrorists types:
    How many Muslim folks are you personally acquainted with?

  • By a Crusade I mean having the NATO Countries get together and form an elite squad of 100,000. There are no ROE. They conduct stealth missions and kill on sight any terrorist. Didn’t mean a Religious crusade. Your commit about a world crusade being nonsense doesn’t jive. WW2 was a world crusade against Japan and Germany. Was that total nonsense?

  • I miss the point! No I get it pal. “Nothing the terrorists are doing these days does anything to further a real goal.” They are forming a caliphate. They kicked 2 million Christians out of their home that had been living their since Jesus.

    Islam is a false religion. The Muslim Culture is only good for killing their wives, gays,and anyone who is not a Muslim.
    “The statements are all over the news” Really, how many billions of Muslims live in this world? So maybe 10 condemn these acts. According to Islam you get close to your enemy so they let their guard down. I don’t believe any Muslim that says they condemn these attack. They are liars.

    Take your muslim loving views and stick it up your ass.

  • How does it feel to be a patsy for ISIS? Someone so ignorant and hysteric you can’t see how obviously you are being played?

    The fact that you feel the need to trash any concepts of Democracy and civil liberties in service of your fear, hysteria and ignorance makes you more dangerous than a terrorist. ISIS can only kill people and break things in a free society. People like yourself try to turn a free society into a not free one.

  • Actually it was not… WW 2 had everything to to with the creation of Israel… study your Balfour agreement!! and the rest of the jewish agenda…… And Nato has no clue as to fight terrorists not wars based in religious beliefs… thus Donald tells us they are obsolete as indeed they are. We can never defeat musloids on a secular basis. The unified purpose can NEVER be there. There is much info on the subjet.. but has some very practical commentaries on the subject.

  • You are advocating targeting a group of people solely on the basis of their religion. How does that jive well with freedom of religion?

    You are panicking about religious takeover of government. Something which can only happen if you undermine and remove the separation of church and state.

    There is no sane argument to be made that “___ religion is evil, therefore we must go after all of its adherents”. Doesn’t matter what religion.

    Random killings of Europeans and Americans can’t bring about a caliphate. But attacking freedom of religion in response, radicalising entire religious groups, advocating what amounts to fascist tactics, that will bring it about.

    BTW who are the ones doing the most to oppose ISIS? Not us or Europeans. It’s other Muslims. Kurds and Shia Militias. For every American and European ISIS takes credit for killing (after the fact, they are such PR s1uts) they are killing 100-500 fellow Muslims. But that kind of subtlety is lost by ignoramuses who bleat nonsense about “ALL MOOSLIMS DO ___”

    You are doing the work for ISIS but don’t realize it.

  • “Small and amateurish,”? 84 dead from a rampaging rental truck, 19 dead, 21 wounded in a knife attack in Japan (not specifically terrorist),etc. When one person dies unjustly they are 100% dead. How would it feel to be that one? The scale may be “small,” but the net number of incidents are increasing. That should disturb anyone.

  • I guess I don’t quite get the reference to Luke 19:27 with respect to your comment to Jason Maxwell and his comment about Migrants. I’m not generally considered thickheaded among my peers and contemporaries (RNS is another matter), but I’m sorry I don’t see the connection.

  • The net numbers are not really increasing. Europe went through a lot worse several decades ago. It’s just they had a lull after the cold war ended. Plus ISIS and AL Qaeda are always willing to take credit for anything useful. Whether they had a hand in it or not.

    Professional terrorists back in the day would kill jetliners full of people. Bombing campaigns by the PLO, IRA, ETA or Red Army Factions would create a climate of fear that hasn’t been seen again until recently.

    But my point is there is a random and unfocused nature to these attacks. There are no real goals being put forward. It does little except enable far right wing calls for repression of Muslims.

  • So you don’t see those come to destroy the fruits of your labor … Please open your eyes.

  • Hi Rostomic
    I did a read of Luke 19, and, could not for the life of me figure out what you meant by the application!
    but, then I saw you wrote ‘So you don’t see those come to destroy the fruits of your labor’. So, I think what you are trying to say is that you are concerned the invading plague of islamic locust is going to destroy Christian civilization.
    My statement is intended to be ironic in order to repudiate the insantiy of francis.[because it is a quotation from his own mouth]
    What we need is POPE JEHU to anathemitize the vatican apostates and meet globalist jihad with declaration of HOLY WAR
    hope this helps.

  • Any refugee that is not contributing and accepting our working culture is a destroyer. of that what we have build and made. I include most of the political class of democRATS!… Yes we also need pope like pope Urban !! . Listen to: His statements to Slavic people are an affront given that they defeated the musloid vermin many times last one being at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

  • However unfocused and random these attacks are they come at a still significant cost. In the words of John Donne, “no man is an island…,” and “Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” And the net numbers are increasing relative to a couple of decades relative quiescence.

  • I’m not sure to which immigrants you are referring, Islamic or Hispanic, or both? I don’t see immigrants as necessarily coming to destroy the fruits of my labor but rather competing to find a place in our labor market. I view most of them as coming to find a better more secure life. I would prefer they come via legal processes with benign motives. Sadly there will always be radicals who come to infiltrate and destroy.

  • of course not the legal one as for illegal and musloids … have no doubt they are and will be the destroyers in one form or another…. we have laws and these are not a matter of preference!. If we want everyone to come here then remove the laws!… As for musloids, the only time he / she he allowed to live in non islamic place ( such as we are) when fighting and supporting the cause of islam a sharia. very simple but absolutely true. I lived in the middle east for number of years so take it from someone who really understands hows they tick! Of course you have 1400 years of history to learn from too!. Learn more also from Dr Werner’s site “Political islam”

  • I am all for law and order, and also recognize the dire threat of Islamic Jihadists, I am equally concerned about the capability of our government to meet that threat.

  • There is only Donald that will tackle it, and being a builder of industrial plants such as refineries etc .. I know he WILL do it and complete it!!! It takes a builder like Donald to achieve things!!! Regardless what anyone says. Never forget this!