132 Priests and Religious Arrested or Abducted and 14 Killed in 2023

Source: FSSPX News

The number is an increase from the 124 cases reported in 2022. However, there are only the confirmed cases; the real number may be higher, given the fact that it is difficult to obtain reliable information in certain countries.

It is the second year that Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has made a list of all cases of abductions, murders, and arrests of members of the Catholic clergy and religious in the world.


Among them, 86 were under arrest (compared to 55 in 2022). Some had been arrested or abducted before the start of the year, and remained in custody or missing. The ACN only counts arrests related to persecution and not proven criminal cases.

In Nicaragua, 46 members of the clergy were arrested in 2023; others were deported or could not reenter after a trip abroad. Many priests were eventually freed or sent into exile, but the last two weeks of December saw the arrests of 19 members of the Church, including Isidoro Mora, Bishop of Siuna (Nicaragua). Two priests were freed, but 17 others, as well as Bishop Rolando Álvarez, arrested in August 2022 and sentenced to 26 years in prison, are still in prison.

Even if it is virtually impossible to prove information from China, the ACN figures report 20 members of the clergy under arrest in 2023, some of them having been missing for years. But the real number is difficult to establish because some priests or bishops may have been freed without the details being made public.

Belarus also resorted to arrests. At least ten priests were arrested by authorities over the course of the year, and three were still behind bars by the end of the year. In Ukraine, Fathers Ivan Levitsky and Bohdan Geleta, two Greek Catholic priests arrested in 2022 by Russian occupying forces, and have still not been released.

In India, where anti-conversion laws continue to be used to attempt to hinder the work of Catholic organizations, at least six people were arrested over the course of the year, including a nun. They were all subsequently released, but some still face charges which could lead to prison sentences.

Abductions Are Decreasing, But Still A Concerning Number

The number of abducted priests or nuns increased from 54 in 2022 to 33 in 2023. This number includes five priests abducted in previous years and still held captive, or priests freed in 2023, like Fr. Hans-Joachim Lohre, who was abducted in Mali in 2022.

Nigeria tops the list by far, with 28 cases, including three nuns. Haiti has two cases. The three other abduction cases are of priests in Mali and Burkina Faso and a nun in Ethiopia.

Four abducted priests remain missing to this day: Joël Yougbaré of Burkina Faso; John Bako Shekwolo, Joseph Igweagu, and Christopher Ogide of Nigeria.


In 2023, 14 murders were committed: 11 priests, a bishop, a religious brother, and a seminarian. There were 18 murders in 2022. Seven of these homicides took place under circumstances not directly related to persecution: a bishop and a priest in the United States, a priest in Colombia, a priest in Mexico, a religious brother in Cameroon, a priest in Burkina Faso, and a priest in Nigeria.

Among the seven other deaths directly related to persecution, Nigeria has the highest number with three deaths: Fr. Isaac Achi, brutally killed in January, did not succeed in escaping his residence reduced to ashes following an attack; the seminarian Na’aman Danlami suffered the same fate, in September; and not long after, in October, Godwin Eze, a Benedictine who had been abducted with two other novices, was killed by his captors.

Fr. Pamphili Nada was killed in Tanzania by a man who suffered from mental illness. In Mexico, Fr. Javier García Villafaña was found dead in his vehicle. His attackers shot him in a region where organized crime is widespread and where those who oppose it are often targeted by drug cartels. In December, an elderly Belgian priests, Fr. Léopold Feyen, was stabbed to death by armed men who burst into his house in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he had served for decades.