An annual report by Vatican-based Fides news agency detailed the violent deaths of at least 26 clergy, religious, and lay faithful working on behalf of the Catholic Church during 2011.
Authors of the Dec. 30 document cited the words of Pope Benedict XVI, when he noted on Dec. 26 that “the sincere adherence to the Gospel may require the sacrifice of life, and many Christians in various parts of the world are sometimes exposed to persecution and martyrdom.”
The total of 26 known killings marks a slight increase from the preceding year's death toll of 25. Eighteen of 2011's victims were priests, while four were religious sisters and another four were laypersons.
As in the past two years, the greatest number of Church workers were killed in the regions of North, South, and Central America. This year's death toll in the Americas consisted of 13 priests and two lay Catholics, with all but three of these murders occurring in Columbia or Mexico.
In Africa, the second-largest number of pastoral workers – including two priests, three religious sisters, and a layperson – died violently. Two priests lost their lives in Asia, as did one religious sister and one member of the laity. In Europe, the least-affected region, one priest died in an act of violence.
Many of these deaths are known to have occurred in the course of attempted robberies or kidnappings. But other killings are thought to have stemmed from conflicts of a religious, moral, or social nature, in what Fides described as “situations of suffering, poverty, tension, degradation, (and) violence.”
Among the more controversial cases were the Indian religious Sister Valsha John, killed by a mob after several years of activism against mining interests; and Father Fausto Tentorio, a missionary priest who worked on behalf of indigenous peoples in the Philippines and died at the hands of two gunmen.
Authors of the report said they “do not propose to use the term 'martyrs'” to describe the slain pastoral workers, “since it is up to the Church to judge their possible merits and also because of the scarcity of available information” in most cases.
Fides' estimates that at least 885 priests, religious, and other church workers have died in violent incidents since 1990.