A Catholic church in Lyon, France, has sold off statues of monks killed by Muslims, for fear they will provoke attacks.
The statues, which were to be shown at Saint Louis church, honoured monks who were beheaded by Muslims in Algeria during the 1990s. The Algerian consul in the city responded with “fury” to the statues. The church sold the statues to an institute that hosts a private museum of Catholic artifacts to prevent conflict with local Muslims.
Cardinal Barbarin approved the statues to be placed in the church’s grounds last year. But the more powerful Bishop of Lyon was persuaded by his personal entourage by arguments that the statues may cause Muslims to launch attacks on the works. The Bishop’s aides argued, “Imagine if [someone] unbalanced [were to] to decapitate these statues?”.
They argued that because there is a Salafist mosque very close to the church, such attacks may be likely. As a result of this the Bishop of Lyon decided to sell the statues to a museum.
The church had already delayed the inauguration of the statues to appease the Algerian consulate. They planned for their official launch to happen in the spring of this year. The date was moved to avoid clashing with Algerian Independence Day.
Some in the area feared the statues would provoke Muslims. The Socialist Party mayor of Lyon, Miriam Poot, said she didn’t want the statues and that the church should first have consulted the district council.
French Catholic officials in Algeria were also more than reluctant about the statues being placed at the church. Lyonnais Jean-Paul Vesco, Bishop of Oram, said he worried that they would provoke attacks on them. The Catholic priest feared the message of the statues would be religious war or “embezzlement”.
The Algerian consul in Lyon was “furious” about not having been informed about the statues at the commissioning stage . The consulate argued that in the context of the “dark decade” of the 1990s, when 19 French monks were slaughtered, their deaths were insignificant. They also said the statues must not “overshadow the deaths of at least 150,000 Algerians”.
As a result of the controversy, the church sold the statues. Maison Saint Irenaeus hosts a variety of Catholic artifacts. Their main building serves as the premises for Radios Chrétiennes Francophones, a Christian radio service for French speakers. The statues cost €60,000, on top of money paid for cutting the stone but were sold to St Irenaeus Foundation for just €40,000.