The doors of a Gothic revival church in the 15th Arrondissement of Paris were barricaded with pews this morning in an attempt to prevent the demolition of the building to make way for a car park and apartment building. Protestors including a Catholic priest and the local mayor were abused by riot police clearing the building ready for the bulldozers after the religious association which owns it decided to redevelop the site.
Shocking footage shot from within the church of Sainte-Rita this morning shows the congregation gathered around the altar as the priest, Father Jean-François Billot celebrated Mass in his full robes and chasuble with the assistance of servers. Over the course of the 40-minute video, the singing of songs of prayer became louder as the black-clad riot police smashed down the 19th-century wooden doors and cleared the pews, before carrying members of the congregation and protest out to the street.
— Vivien Hoch (@vivien_hoch) August 3, 2016
Photographs taken during the eviction show Fr. Billot throwing his arms in the air at the altar before being apparently dragged along the ground by police. Others show a young boy dressed in his cassock and surplice being marched down the aisle and out of the church by a riot officer and a man in civilian clothes.
Despite the violence caught on camera, Paris police released a statement this morning which said: “Thirty people took up position inside the building to oppose the recovery of the premises. Their removal was completed without incident”.
Before the eviction, the outer gates of the churchyard had been barricaded by steel sheet gates. Before officers were able to use a circular saw to cut through the locks, a sit-down protest outside had to be cleared — further footage shows police dragging away individuals wearing the tricolour-sashes which are a badge of office for positions such as the mayoralty. Le Parisien reports the “right wing” mayor of the 15th Arrondissement was among those who had taken a stand against the demolition.
One protester was reported to have shouted from a place of safety in a tree “The government allowed citizens to die, but it is always there to help [demolish] churches! We lacked police in Nice, but we don’t need them here!”.
— Marion Maréchal (@MarionMarechal) August 3, 2016
On the metal gates themselves, graffiti in French read: “In France, we kill priests and raze churches”, a sardonic reference to the murder of Catholic priest Father Jacques Hamel by Islamist killers who chanted Islamic State slogans last month. The Requiem Mass for the slain clergyman was held just 24 hours before riot police violently cleared the 15th Arrondissement Catholic church.
Responding to comments by the Pope this week that he would not discuss Muslim violence because Catholics could be violent too, one observer who witnessed today’s events tweeted images of a priest and the congregation being manhandled by police officers in Paris directly at the Pope remarking “now let’s talk about ‘Catholic Violence’ @pontifex”. The same user tweeted a picture of a choirboy being confronted by police at the church, with the caption “weak against Salafists, strong against the children of the choir”.
— Vivien Hoch (@vivien_hoch) August 3, 2016
The church of St. Rita, aptly enough the patron saint of impossible causes, has been closed for almost a year as the owners — the religious association of Catholics and Apostolic Chapels — have sought to clear it for demolition. The site is to be turned into a car park and flats by a private developer.
Previously bricked up by the owner, the former religious community who used the church broke down a cinder-block wall and resumed services in the building. After the court of Paris gave judicial authorisation to clear the community out in January, the Paris commissioner of police was requested to give assistance reports Le Figaro.
The protesters have called a mass at the church on Sunday at eleven o’clock to resist the destruction, which they call “barbaric”.
When the demolition of the church gets underway, images of the Gothic revival building being torn down may recall memories of the Church of Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville in the Somme region. Unusual for the area for having survived the Great War without being damaged, the church was demolished in 2013 to make way for a car park. Footage of the demolition has since been shared and watched millions of times on social media.