Catholic priest is murdered in France

Catholic priest is murdered in France ‘by Rwandan believed to have set fire and destroyed cathedral in Nantes last year’

  • Emmanuel Abayisenga, 40, is said to have confessed to the murder of the priest  
  • Father Olivier Maire, clergyman in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, was killed in Nantes
  • Sources: Early evidence suggested Abayisenga had ‘beaten his victim to death’ 
  • Abayisenga, a devout Catholic, was staying with the Montfortian community 
  • The Rwandan refugee also previously confessed to being behind the fire that gutted the Gothic Nantes cathedral that horrified France on July 18, 2020

A Rwandan refugee to France who was imprisoned for trying to burn down Nantes Cathedral was today arrested for allegedly murdering a Catholic priest while under judicial control.

Emmanuel Abayisenga, 40, is said to have confessed to killing Father Olivier Maire, a clergyman in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, south of Nantes, in western France.

‘The priest is 60 years old and had welcomed the suspect into his community after he was released from prison,’ said an investigating source.

‘He was recently placed under judicial control, and went to live in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. He said is said to have carried out the killing on Monday morning, before handing himself into police.’

Early evidence suggested Abayisenga had ‘beaten his victim to death,’ said the source.

Pictured: Father Olivier, the 60-year-old priest who was allegedly murdered in today’s attack

Abayisenga, who is a devout Catholic, was staying with the Montfortian community, which is made up of missionaries devoted to Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.

Father Olivier, the head of the Montfortian community in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, had agreed to take Abayisenga in, giving him food and lodging. 

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.’ 

Another source close to the investigation, who asked not to be named, told AFP news agency a man had earlier gone to police in the town of Mortagne-sur-Sevre and declared he had killed a priest.  

The source added that the priest, aged 60, had been welcoming the man into his church for several months.

The man, named as Emmanuel Abayisenga confessed to being behind the fire at the Gothic Nantes cathedral that horrified France on July 18, 2020.

He had initially been placed under arrest before being freed under judicial control. conditions of which included surrendering his passport, and remaining in France, but he was otherwise free to travel. 

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accuses the government of being weak on immigration, sought to seize on the incident, saying that in France ‘you can be an illegal migrant, set fire to a cathedral, not be expelled and then reoffend by murdering a priest’.

Darmanin immediately accused her of ‘making a polemic without knowing the facts’ saying the man could not be expelled from France so long as he was under judicial control.

Immigration is set to be a major issue when Le Pen challenges centrist President Emmanuel Macron for the presidency next year.

The Nantes blaze came 15 months after the devastating 2019 fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which raised questions about the security risks for other historic churches across France.

While firefighters were able to contain the Nantes blaze after just two hours and save the main structure, its famed organ, which dated from 1621 and had survived the French revolution and World War II bombardment, was destroyed.

Also lost were priceless artefacts and paintings, including a work by the 19th-century artist Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and stained glass windows that contained remnants of 16th-century glass. Repairs are due to take several years.

The man, an asylum-seeker from Rwanda who has lived in France for several years, had worked as a volunteer at the church.  

Emmanuel Abayisenga confessed to being behind the fire at the Gothic Nantes cathedral (pictured) that horrified France on July 18, 2020 

The interior of the cathedral was wrecked by the fire and was covered in debris after the inferno tore through the building 

The killing comes four 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.

Abayisenga’s judicial control conditions had included not being allowed to leave France. 

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