Irish Catholics should anticipate more attacks on their local churches, a Tipperary-based priest has warned after Nazi swastikas were painted on his Catholic oratory. The warning comes on foot of three attacks on churches in the midlands as well as numerous other recent attacks on religious buildings and statues.
Fr Michael Toomey told this newspaper that while the desecration of religious buildings is a much wider problem in France, Christians in Ireland are “going to be open to more and more criticism and perhaps sadly attacks” on their churches.
His comments come after vandals last week daubed a Catholic oratory and Holy Cross at Scrouthea Hill in the Comeragh mountains with Nazi swastikas.
The graffiti was discovered last Tuesday by members of a local committee who take care of the religious site when they arrived to make preparations for the annual August Bank Holiday Mass.
The traditional service, which has been running since 1950, went ahead despite the disturbance and in his homily, Fr Toomey said that the entire community had been affected by the “childish and grotesque actions”.
His remarks follow a violent spate of attacks on religious buildings and monuments such as the decapitation of a statue outside Thurles cathedral commemorating once-archbishop Dr Patrick Leahy, as well as the defacing of St Michael’s Church in Shroid last week.
Condemning the “profoundly disrespectful” incident, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois Francis Duffy said: “I am, along with Fr James MacKiernan and our parishioners, deeply saddened at the violent attack on St Michael’s Church.
The church, at which Mass is celebrated each Sunday, was broken into and windows – including a stained-glass window – were smashed.
“This is the second attack on the church; the first occurring at Easter 2017, when it was desecrated. Another church in the parish, St Anne’s, Curry, was vandalised last year. Let there be no ambiguity, this is not a victimless crime.
“Vandalism of this kind is profoundly disrespectful to people of faith and to places of worship. It is threatening and distressing. In a truly pluralist society these examples of vandalism are of concern to our whole community.”
Speaking to The Irish Catholic about the oratory attack, Fr Toomey said that nowadays churches are viewed as public buildings without any sacred quality to them, which leads to people chewing gum and drinking coffee at Mass.
“It is actually the House of God and it’s not that people are being disrespectful deliberately, it’s just the society we live in they see it as just another public building perhaps,” he said, adding that “we need to bring ourselves back to the sacredness of it”.