Bishop William Murphy on Tuesday condemned the terrorist attack on a Catholic church in northern France in which the attackers slit the throat of a priest celebrating Mass and took several hostages before police shot and killed the assailants.
Two men with knives stormed a parish church in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, in the Normandy region, and killed the Rev. Jacques Hamel, the church’s auxiliary priest who was in his 80s, as a morning Mass was ending.
Two nuns and two worshippers were held hostage, according to wire service reports. Two people were injured, one of them severely.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility, calling the attackers its “soldiers,” The Associated Press said.
President François Hollande immediately traveled to the town and decried the latest of several violent episodes that have rattled France and Europe.
Murphy, spiritual leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said he learned of the attack before going to chapel Tuesday morning. He noted that the assailants reportedly shouted “Daesh,” the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“Every decent human being can do none other than condemn these atrocities and support all those, armed forces, police and international forces, that protect the innocent. That is normal,” Murphy, leader of the sixth-largest Catholic diocese in the United States, said in a statement.
“As a Catholic I recoil from several things. First of all, seeing an international network of terrorist thugs able to destroy the innocent at will is bad enough,” the bishop wrote. “But they try to cloak their lawless violence under an appeal to their religion, which makes a mockery of all those Muslims who are true adherents of their faith.
“Second, as a Catholic I recoil at seeing a parish church turned into a killing field. Yet that has been happening all across the Middle East now for many years.”
He added that thirdly, he wonders “about the irony that these morally bankrupt leaders of Daesh look on Christianity as an integral component of Western ‘civilization’ when Europe stands today as a denier that Christianity is even part of their heritage.”
Pope Francis, preparing for a trip to Poland, decried the “pain and horror of this absurd violence.”
The church assault came as France continued to reel from the Bastille Day strike in the southern city of Nice, in which a Tunisian-born deliveryman barreled along a seaside promenade, mowing down spectators who had just watched a fireworks display. Eighty-four people were killed in that attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Hollande, who received heavy criticism for alleged security lapses since that rampage, quickly headed Tuesday to the scene of the church attack, some 65 miles northwest of Paris.
“We are facing a group . . . that has declared war against us,” he told reporters, also referring to the Islamic State as Daesh. “It was not Catholics who were targeted; it was all the people of France.”
With wire reports