At least 23 people working for the Catholic Church were killed in 2017, a Vatican agency has said.
For the eighth consecutive year the place where most violent deaths occurred was America, where 11 people lost their lives. Ten pastoral workers were killed in Africa, five in Nigeria, and two were killed in Asia, both in the Philippines, according to a report by the news agency Fides. Fides groups North and South America together and includes Middle Eastern nations in Asia.
The agency said the dead comprised 13 priests, one Brother, one Sister and eight lay Catholics. Many of those included in the report died during robberies, which the agency attributed to “the climate of moral decline, economic and cultural poverty, which generates violence and disregard for human life”.
The circumstances of the deaths give an indication of the variety of threats faced by pastoral care workers around the world. In Nigeria one priest died after being abducted for ransom while three lay catechists were killed in an attack by Boko Haram. A priest in Kenya who was found unconscious and later died had opposed government killings of members of the Luo ethnic group.
However it added that the list was “provisional” because others around the world who “pay with their lives for their faith in Christ … may never be news”.
The list does not include non-Catholic clergy murdered in 2017, such as Coptic priest Samaan Shehata, who was hacked to death in a Cairo street in October, Baptist pastor Ange-Apoléon Ngakolada from the Central African Republic, or Sudanese church leader Younan Abdulla, who was fatally stabbed while taking part in a peaceful protest against the government.
Nigeria and Mexico topped the list of countries where the most murders highlighted by Fides took place. Fr. Omar Sotelo, Director of the Mexican Multimedia Centre, which presents an annual report on violence against priests and Religious in Mexico, said: “The population is permanently exposed to crime … Priesthood has become a dangerous ministry.”
Fides criticised local authorities for failing to find and convict the perpetrators and instigators of the killings.
The authors did not describe those in its list as “martyrs” because the Catholic Church has a specific process for determining whether someone deserves to be known as such.
“We do not propose to use the term ‘martyrs’ … since it is up to the Church to judge their possible merits and also because of the scarsity [sic] of available information in most cases, with regard to their life and even the circumstances of their death,” the authors explained.
They recalled that in April the diocesan phase of the cause for the beatification of Fr. Jacques Hamel was opened, which Pope Francis had allowed to happen before the five years usually required after the death of the person being investigated. Fr. Hamel was knifed to death at the altar of his church in northern France in 2016 by two young men claiming allegiance to Islamic State.
The report noted that its list does not include pastoral care workers who have been abducted and whose fate is unknown, such as Fr. Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in 2013 in Raqqa, Syria, or Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, abducted 11 months ago by Al Qaeda-linked jihadists in Mali.
This year’s list does not include the Bishop of Bafia, in Cameroon, Jean-Marie Benoit Bala, whose body was found in the Sanaga River in June. The Cameroonian bishops’ conference believe he was murdered and reject the conclusion of the Attorney General that “drowning is the most likely cause of the bishop’s death”.
The figure of 23 Catholic pastoral care workers killed is lower than last year’s count of 28. According to Fides, since 2001 around 400 Catholic pastoral care workers have been killed, including five bishops.