A Catholic priest has been murdered in the Vendée region of western France, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced on Twitter on Monday, adding that he was on his way to the region.
The suspect is also believed to have been involved in a major fire that destroyed a cathedral in the French city of Nantes last year, a source close to the investigation said.
“All my support for the Catholics of our country after the dramatic murder of a priest in the Vendée region,” Darmanin wrote on Twitter, saying he was on his way to the crime scene.
Tout mon soutien aux catholiques de notre pays après le dramatique assassinat d’un prêtre en Vendée. Je me rends sur place.
— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) August 9, 2021
A source close to the investigation, who asked not to be named, told AFP that the suspect had previously gone to police in the town of Mortagne-sur-Sevre and stated that he had killed a priest. The man was already under judicial control over the fire at Nantes Cathedral in July 2020, the source added.
According to the source, the murdered priest, aged 60, had been welcoming the man to his church for several months.
The man, named Emmanuel A., has confessed to being behind the fire in the Gothic cathedral of Nantes that horrified France on July 18, 2020.
He was initially placed under arrest before being released under judicial supervision.
Earlier Monday, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who accuses the government of being weak on immigration, tried to seize the incident, saying that in France you can “be an illegal migrant, set fire to a cathedral and cannot be evicted”. and then reoffend by killing a priest.”
Darmanin immediately accused her of “making a polemic without knowing the facts”, saying the man could not be expelled from France as long as he was under judicial control.
Immigration will become a major issue when Le Pen challenges centrist President Emmanuel Macron for president next year.
Priceless Artifacts Lost in the Fire of 2020
The Nantes fire came 15 months after the devastating 2019 fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which raised questions about security risks to other historic churches across France.
While firefighters managed to subdue the Nantes fire after just two hours and save the main structure, the famous organ, dating from 1621 and having survived the French Revolution and the bombing of the Second World War, was destroyed.
Also went missing and priceless paintings, including a work by 19th-century artist Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and stained glass windows with remnants of 16th-century glass. Repairs will take several years.
The man, an asylum seeker from Rwanda who has lived in France for several years, had volunteered at the church.