by Deacon Nick Donnelly

The bestial murder of 86 year old Fr Jacques Hamel by Islamic State terrorists is an evil beyond the comprehension of all decent and moral people. The fact that Adel Kermiche and Abdelmalik Petitjean chose to attack a priest celebrating Mass and cut his throat as he knelt at the foot of the altar takes this act into the realm of demonic evil.

The beheading of Fr Hamel was clearly intended by them as a deliberate desecration of the Church; after butchering Fr Hamel, his blood soaked murderers delivered a mock homily from the altar. It was at this same altar moments before his murder that Fr Jacques had offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Archbishop Fisher of Sydney is clear that Fr Hamel’s murder was an act of hate directed against the whole Church:

“And the terrorists underlined the meaning of their act by engaging in a ritual sacrifice of the priest before the altar and a mock homily. So their act was not just murder but also sacrilege, desecration, blasphemy. Their motive was not just revenge for the policies of the secular French government, but hatred for the Church and its priests and religious and faithful, even when they are demonstrably friends of Muslims, as Fr Jacques was.”

Anyone with knowledge of the persecution and murder of Christians by Muslims around the world knows that terrorist attacks against Christians are often accompanied by sacrilege, desecration and blasphemy. More often than not, their rage is concentrated on the Cross of our Lord. In Syria and Iraq Islamist terrorists mock our Lord Jesus Christ’s death by crucifying Christians and in one incident Islamists murdered a young Syrian Christian woman by forcing a cross down her throat after raping her.

Though many Muslims have a devotion to their ‘version’ of our Lady, some even visiting Catholic Marian shrines, other fundamentalist Muslims express their hatred for Christianity by desecrating statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 2015 five migrants attacked a Catholic man praying before a statue of Mary in the chapel of the St. Barnabas in Perugia, Italy. They proceeded to smash the statue to pieces and then urinated on it.

The purpose of these acts of Islamist hatred towards Christianity is the ultimate destruction of entire communities of the faithful. Over the past fifteen years in Northern Nigeria Muslims have killed 11,500 Christians, displaced over a million from their homes and parishes and destroyed or shut down 13,000 churches.

Vehement Aversion to the Sacred

It is well known among exorcists that one of the signs of the presence of the devil in an individual’s life is their violent reaction against the sacred. This can manifest itself as a vehement aversion to the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and religious images, especially the Holy Cross.

It is no coincidence that throughout history groups and individuals who hate the Church have delighted in desecrating the Blessed Sacrament and have made the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Tabernacle and Holy Communion the target of their malevolence. Satanists, Communists, New Atheists and Islamists all have one thing in common — they have all committed acts of sacrilege, desecration and blasphemy against the Blessed Sacrament.

The devil has hated the Most Holy Eucharist, and sought to desecrate the sacred species, since our Lord’s institution of the Mass at the Last Supper. The devil entered into Judas the moment after he received Holy Communion unworthily, in a state of mortal sin caused by his intention to betray Jesus Christ, “Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:27). Jesus’ offer of Himself to Judas in the Blessed Sacrament was an invitation to him to give up his evil scheme but Judas rejected our Lord’s mercy.

Adel Kermiche and Abdelmalik Petitjean, the murderers of Fr Jacques, chose to attack him and his parishioners during the celebration of the Mass out of hatred of Christianity. They chose to desecrate the most sacred rite of the Catholic faith. Clearly those who focus their evil rage against the Most Holy Eucharist, the Mass and priests know, at some level, that God is present in the Blessed Sacrament. This stirring of faith is a grace from Jesus to gives them the last opportunity to turn away from their evil plots. However, if they persist, like Judas, in their desecration they bring about their own condemnation because they have chosen to side with the devil in his hatred of Christ.

What St Augustine says of Judas also applies to all desecrators of the Blessed Sacrament, “What he received is good but he received it to his own perdition, because he, being evil, received in an evil manner what is good”. (In Ioann. Evang., 61,60). The sacrament of mercy in the hands of evil men becomes the sacrament of judgement.

The Quran calls for a fight against Christians

Though the Quran recognises both Christians and Jews as “People of the Book”, it also contains passages that explicitly reject fundamental Christian doctrines and call for violence against Christians for not accepting the Message of Muhammad. The Quran rejects both the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and the Most Holy Trinity:

“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion or utter anything concerning Allah but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah, His Word that He sent to Mary, and a Spirit from Him [that He sent]. So believe in Allah and His messengers, and do not say ‘Three.’ Desist, it is better for you! Allah is one God. Far exalted is He above having offspring.” (Quran 4.171).

The Quran also rejects that Jesus Christ died on the Cross and therefore they dispute our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead:

“They said, ‘We killed the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of God.’ They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but the likeness of him was put on another man (and they killed that man)”. (4.157).

One of the Islamic Hâdith, in a report describing the words and actions of Muhammad, claims that when our Lord returns at the Second Coming Jesus will “break the cross”. A Muslim once explained to me that Islam holds that at his Second Coming Jesus will explain to Christians that we have misunderstood him, that Islam is the true faith and that Jesus will give us the opportunity to accept Muhammad and Islam with Him.

This explicit antagonism in the Quran towards the divine truths revealed by the words and deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ expresses itself in Muhammad’s exhortation to violence against Christians in a number of Quranic texts:

“And fight them until there is no more disbelief in Islam and the religion will all be for Allah Alone…” (8:39).

“Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (and those who acknowledge not Islam as the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah [religious tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”. (9:29).

The Catholic approach to Islam

The Church’s approach to Islam begins with the foundational truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is God, consubstantial with the Father, and the only Mediator between God and man; that He is the fulfilment of God’s revelation, that ended with the death of the last apostle, and that through His Passion, death on the Cross, and Resurrection from the dead, He is the unique and only Saviour of all mankind.

This means that the Catholic Church cannot accept any of the claims of Islam to surpass or correct what has been revealed by Jesus Christ, “Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfilment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions’. (CCC 67).

Having established that the Church cannot accept what is erroneous in Islam, she does acknowledge that there are semina Verbi [seeds of the Word] present in all religions. The phrase 'seeds of the Word,' is a very ancient Catholic term, coined by Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. He wrote about semina Verbi existing in Greek philosophy but he never applied the term to non-Christian religions. The important thing to realise is that the term semina Verbi emphasises the universal primacy of our Lord Jesus Christ’s activity and presence, through the Holy Spirit, in all human cultures and religions.

The Second Vatican Council extended Justin Martyrs’s use of the phrase semina Verbi to include non-Christian religions. In the Declaration on Missionary Activity, the Council calls on missionaries to gently and reverently uncover the ‘seeds of the Word’ hidden in national religions and traditions (AG 11). This suggests that Vatican II recognised that genuine semina Verbi were often hidden among erroneous ideas and expressions that have nothing to do with the truth of Christ. The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church calls on all the baptised to save non-Christians from the “slavery of error and of idols and incorporate[s] them in Christ”. Through our missionary apostolate we save, cleanse and raise up the seeds of goodness within other religions:

“Through her work, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men, whatever good lies latent in the religious practices and cultures of diverse peoples, is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of man.” (Lumen Gentium, 17).

It is as a consequence of the presence of these semina Verbi in Islam, due to its origin in God’s revelation to Abraham, that the Catholic Church can “recognise, preserve and promote the good things” that exist among many Muslims (Nostrae aetate, 2). The presence of the seeds of the Word of Christ in Islam means that it is within God’s plan of Salvation, but it is not another way of salvation alongside Christianity. Moreover, the Second Vatican Council never intended that the Church accept, or remain silent in the face of, what is patently erroneous and immoral in Islam.

Disappointing responses to the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel

Given the passages in the Quran that encourage Muslims to fight against Christians, I have been disappointed by the Holy See’s responses to the brutal slaying of Fr Jacque Hamel. Fr Lombardi, the former Holy See’s spokesman, issued a statement on behalf of Pope Francis describing the barbarous killing of the priest as ‘absurd violence’. Pope Francis went on to respond that the murder of Fr Hamel was further proof that the world was at war, but that it was not a war of religion, "Some might think it is war of religion. It is not. All religions want peace. Others want war.” Returning from World Youth Day in Poland the Holy Father continued in this vein, “I believe that it’s not fair to identify Islam with violence. It’s not fair and it’s not true.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin joined Pope Francis in downplaying the violence inspired by Islam when he said, “Does Islam want to rule the world? There may be some people of the Islamic faith who do, but Islam itself has another side within it — a caring and a tolerant side."

The thousands upon thousands of Christians who are experiencing violence at the hands of Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Bangladesh, Aden, Europe and the USA will disagree with Pope Francis’s downplaying of the violence committed by Muslims around the world. By insisting on ignoring the undeniable truth before our eyes — that Islam is inspiring appalling acts of violence against innocent and defenceless people — Pope Francis and other bishops are risking being dismissed by ordinary Catholics as detached from reality by some incomprehensible agenda.

Unfortunately Pope Francis and other bishops have yet to learn the lesson from the UK vote to leave the EU, that ordinary people react badly to leaders who choose not to tell the whole truth but who instead attempt to crudely manipulate them. Instead of defusing anger, leaders who repeat slogans that don’t match reality only succeed in stoking it up. In order to meet the imperative of this international emergency the Church needs to abandon the mantra that “Islam is a religion of peace” and instead lead a rational debate about the inherent problem of Islam’s violence. Time is running out for the Church to influence this debate before extremists take over the narrative.

The unavoidable truth if we are honest

A number of genuinely peace-loving Muslims in Europe condemned the attack on the Normandy church and the bestial murder of Fr Jacques Hamel. Of the population of 5 million Muslims in France a couple of hundred attended Mass in Rouen, Paris, Bordeaux and other French towns to show solidarity with Catholics against the violence of ISIS. A group of Muslims even gathered at the parish church were Fr Hamel was murdered and unfurled a banner that read, ‘Love for all. Hate for none.’ They were Ahmadiyya Muslims, a minority sect who, unlike the majority of Muslims, do not hold that Muhammad is the final prophet.

More significantly, Muslims in the town that witnessed Fr Jacque’s murder refused to bury Adel Kermiche, one of the killers, because they considered his actions sinful. They were also concerned that being associated with his burial would ‘taint Islam’.

During the week after Fr Hamel’s murder I had a discussion, via social media, with a Muslim from Pakistan who wanted to express his condemnation of the attack against our church. He wanted to re-assure me that Islam is not a religion of violence, and posed no threat to Christians. However, when we widened the exchange to discuss Islam’s attitude to violence he insisted that it was obligatory to use violence against Muslims who converted to Christianity because it was commanded by Muhammad. It is this belief that Muhammad commands violence against apostate Muslims, and non-believers in certain circumstances, that is an unavoidable truth if we are honest. And it is only honesty that will enable us to have a genuine conversation with Islam.