This op-ed by Paul Vallely is one of the more contemptible things I’ve read in a while, and given that I’m on Twitter, that’s saying something. It is also thoroughly incoherent: the argument that cites the fact “Father Hamel was going about his lifelong business in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray as an everyday exemplar of quiet holiness, kindness and love for the people in his community” as a reason not to canonize him is more truly “senseless” than the murder itself — especially since Vallely admits that Fr. Hamel’s death amply “fulfills the traditional criteria” for martyrdom.
The incoherence doesn’t stop there. Vallely writes, “Some will react to that threat by unwittingly accepting the terrorists’ agenda, as the archbishop of Rouen appeared to do when he described the killing of Father Hamel as an ‘assassination’ — as though a provincial priest would be a target.” But Fr. Hamel was a target, indeed was successfully targeted: isn’t that obvious by the fact that his murder was not only enacted but filmed? (He just wasn’t targeted for being famous. But non-famous people can be assassinated too: consider the police officers recently assassinated in Dallas and Baton Rouge, solely because they were police officers.) Does Vallely really think the murderers were waving knives about randomly and Fr. Hamel’s neck happened to get in the way?
But worse than the incoherence is this: the question of whether Fr. Hamel is genuinely a martyr is one that Vallely desperately wishes to avoid. For him, the Church is not to acknowledge its martyrs unless such acknowledgment serves what Vallely believes to be the proper political calculation of the moment. For him this is the key: “we must resist the notion that a fundamental clash of civilizations is the issue.” Nothing can be done that stands a chance of feeding a political narrative which Vallely finds tasteless. Thus: “The real problem is the pathology of a perverse minority of extremists with distorted notions of holy war and martyrdom.” Ah yes, the real problem at last! This is moral equivalence at its most loathsome: those who would seek Fr. Hamel’s canonization are morally indistinguishable from his murderers, because both belong to that “perverse minority of extremists with distorted notions of … martyrdom.”
So let not the Church call its martyrs martyrs, lest by doing so she fall into “extremism.” Let not the ancient commitment to honor the martyrs of Christ get in the way of political convenience. Let not Fr. Hamel be honored, lest some political benefit accrue to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. God forbid!