Rwandan ‘Kills Catholic Priest Who Was Sheltering Him as He Awaited Trial for Nantes Cathedral Arson’
Peter Allen, Daily Mail, August 9, 2021
French politicians reacted with fury today after a Rwandan refugee allegedly murdered a Roman Catholic priest who was giving him shelter while on bail for alleged arson.
Emmanuel Abayisenga, 40, reportedly confessed to the killing of 60-year-old Father Olivier Maire in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre earlier this morning.
The Rwandan was awaiting trial for setting fire to Nantes Cathedral last year, and had been taken in by Father Maire’s community while on bail and under judicial control.
Today’s horrific crime immediately provoked outrage across France. ‘What was this man still doing in France?’ asked senator and president of the country’s centre-right Republicans group Bruno Retailleau.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Far-Right National Rally, said: ‘An illegal immigrant’ can ‘set fire to a Cathedral, not be expelled and then reoffend by murdering a priest’.
However, under the conditions of his bail, Abayisenga was forced to surrender his passport and therefore was not permitted to leave France.
In an act of compassion, Olivier had welcomed Abayisenga – a devout Catholic – into his community of missionaries in May when he was released from prison on bail.
‘He was recently placed under judicial control, and went to live in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre,’ said an investigating source. ‘He is said to have carried out the killing on Monday morning, before handing himself into police.
‘Early evidence suggests he beat his victim to death,’ the source added.
Abayisenga was living with the Montfortian community, which is made up of missionaries devoted to Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.
Local prosecutors are leading the investigation, indicating the killing is not being treated as an act of terrorism. BFM TV reported the Rwandan had received treatment in a psychiatric hospital during July.
Following today’s attack, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted: ‘All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendée region.’
It was while working as a parish volunteer in Nantes in 2020 that Abayisenga, who arrived in France in 2012, set fire to the medieval Cathedral, causing millions of pounds worth of damage.
The worst damage to Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s, which took 400 years to complete, was the ‘complete destruction’ of the Organ, which dated back to 1621. Stained glass in part of the building also popped out because of the heat of the blaze.
Abayisenga was still awaiting trial for the Nantes Cathedral arson, but was bailed from prison in May.
Conditions including surrendering his passport, and remaining in France, but he was otherwise free to travel.
Father Olivier, the head of the Montfortian community, had agreed to take Abayisenga in, giving him food and lodging. The priest was the national leader in France for the congregation, which is present in around 30 countries.
Abayisenga first sought refuge France eight years ago, according to an investigation by French news outlet La Croix following the cathedral arson.
He comes from a Hutu family, with the news outlet suggesting some of his family may have participated in the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994, and that his father was executed as a result when he returned to his home village.
Abayisenga became a police officer in Rwanda, but later travelled to France where upon his arrival, his application for asylum was refused.
The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons determined that ‘in the event of return to his country, it is not proven that he would be the victim of persecution,’ and he was sent four notices to leave the country.
Right-wing officials in France were quick to react to the news of the priest’s murder, taking to social media to ask why Abayisenga was still in the country.
Right-wing primary candidate for the presidential election, Valérie Pécresse, said she was ‘upset’ by the attack, while another right-wing candidate Xavier Bertrand express his ‘fear’ over the attack that he said ‘strikes at the heart Catholics a few days before the Assumption’.
Spokesperson for the RN (The National Front) Sébastien Chenu said: ‘Every day, our country is sinking a little more,’ and ‘we are really going to have to wake up!’
Deputy for The Republicans (LR) group of senators Guillaume Larrivé denounced the attack as a ‘terrible failure of the State,’ while fellow LR politician Laurent Wauquiez said: ‘This man should never have entered France and even less stayed there after the fire in Nantes cathedral. (…) We have before us the consequences of our cowardice and our blindness.’
LR spokesperson Agnès Evren said: ‘we pay dearly, very dearly, all our cowardice’, while LR deputy of Pas-de-Calais Pierre-Henri Dumont said ‘as long as our only response remains impotence and laxity , we will continue to mourn our dead ‘.
Philippe de Villiers, an entrepreneur and former President of the Gaullist Movement for France party, linked France’s introduction of Covid-19 health passes to the attack. ‘Macron imposes the restriction of the freedom to come and go the same day a priest was assassinated in Vendée by a freed criminal,’ Villiers wrote on Twitter.
It was Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Far-Right National Rally, who reacted most furiously to the killing, questioning how Abayisenga was still allowed in the country after the cathedral fire last year: ‘What’s happening in our country is unprecedented: the total failure of the state,’ she said.
Immigration is set to be a major issue when Le Pen challenges centrist President Emmanuel Macron for the presidency next year.
But Minister Gerald Darmanin immediately accused her of ‘making a polemic without knowing the facts’.
He said Abayisenga could not be expelled from France while under judicial control, and that he had previously been given leave to stay in the country.
But Senator Bruno Retailleau, who represents the Vendee region and who identified the victim as Olivier Maire as a man ‘he knew well’, said he was ‘Deeply shocked by the terrible murder of a priest who had taken his murderer into his care,’ Retailleau said on Twitter.
‘What was this man still doing in France?’ the senator asked.
Local worshippers described a priest much loved by his parishioners and known for his profound homilies.
‘I’m in shock. I cannot believe it to be,’ sister Dorothee Harushinana, who attended a mass the priest had led on Sunday, told Reuters by telephone. ‘He was someone close to the people. You could always call on him.’
President Emmanuel Macron also reacted on Monday, expressing his condolences to the bereaved and to Catholics in France, while emphasising the country’s priority in protecting people with religious beliefs.
‘He bore the generosity and love of the other even in the features of his face,’ Macron said of Father Olivier Maire in a tweet on Monday.
‘On behalf of the Nation, I pay tribute to Father Olivier Maire. Warm thoughts for Montfortians and all Catholics in France. Protecting those who believe is a priority.’
The killing comes five years after the horrifying murder of French Catholic priest Jacques Hamel while celebrating Mass.
It was in July 2016 that the 85-year-old was killed in the Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray by two Islamist terrorists swearing allegiance to Isis.
A police source in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre said there were ‘no indications of terrorism’ in the latest case.
The Nantes blaze happened 15 months after the devastating 2019 fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Both blazes raised major questions about the security risks for historic places of worship across France.