Video of priest being attacked in church took place in Guyana, not France

Towards the end of 2020, a Catholic priest in Guyana was struck on the head by a man while leading mass. However, a video of the incident has resurfaced on Twitter after an American conspiracist shared the clip and claimed it showed an African migrant attacking a priest in France. The claim is false; the incident occurred in Guyana in 2020 and at the time, Bishop Francis Alleyne told AFP Fact Check the man who hit him was known locally and "mentally ill”.

“African migrant interrupts Mass, assaults priest, and steals the Holy Bible in France. This is the destruction of western civilization,” reads a tweet by Stew Peters, a far-right podcast host whose show has repeatedly been fact-checked.

The 10-second video shows a shirtless man hitting a priest on the head during a church service, before taking a book from the altar and leaving, shouting as he goes.

Screenshot of the false tweet, taken on February 24, 2023

The video was also shared in another tweet from British conservative blogger David Vance, and again here where it was retweeted more than 2,900 times.

The claim has also circulated on Twitter in French.

Debunked pundit

Peters' show was removed from the streaming platform Spotify in 2021 for sharing Covid-related disinformation.

AFP Fact Check and other organisations have debunked a number of theories by Peters, including his false claims that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is dangerous because it contains the nanoparticle graphene oxide.

More recently, his network presented the widely debunked film “Died Suddenly” which fuelled conspiracies about Covid-19 vaccinations being used for depopulation.

A screenshot taken November 27, 2022, from Rumble shows the film "Died Suddenly"

Vance, who has 196,000 Twitter followers, was suspended from the platform in September 2021 after being accused of repeated racism in his tweets.

Guyana 2020 incident

AFP Fact Check in Spanish first wrote a debunk about the video when it went viral back in November 2020.

At the time, Spanish social media users had claimed that the footage showed a migrant beating a priest in the Canary Islands.

However, a reverse image search using InVID-WeVerify located the original video and found that the incident had taken place not in the Canary Islands, but in South America -- in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during mass on November 7, 2020.

That day, the Catholic Media Guyana Facebook page recorded a live broadcast of the mass, and at around 23:30 minutes, it shows a wider angle of the shirtless man heading for the altar, before the attack.

Screenshot from video streamed live on Facebook by Catholic Media Guyana, taken on February 22, 2023

When AFP Fact Check contacted the editor and videographer for Catholic Media Guyana, Romeo Abrams, he confirmed the date and location of the event. He also shared a copy of Catholic Standard, a weekly publication where the scene had been reported.

It reported that a man had assaulted Bishop Francis Alleyne, who was accompanied by Deacon Francis Savarimuthu (also in the footage). Armed with a knife, the man threw the lid off the chalice on the altar and stole a ring and a crucifix before hitting the bishop on the head and taking the missal -- a liturgical book used during mass.

According to the Catholic Standard, parishioners confronted the attacker on his way out and managed to recover the items he had taken. Other local media also reported the event on November 8, 2020, and said that the attacker had been arrested.

‘My attacker is a mentally ill Guyanese’

At approximately 26:30 minutes into the Facebook Live recording, Alleyne is heard saying in English, "We want to pray for our brother", in reference to the man, as confirmed by Abrams, the videographer.

The bishop again confirmed this in an email to AFP Fact Check on November 15, 2020.

"This is an incident that occurred during the 6 am mass on Saturday, November 7, 2020, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which is located in Brickdam, Georgetown, Guyana, South America,“ Alleyne said, confirming he was the one officiating.

The clergyman added: “My attacker is a mentally ill Guyanese, one of many who come to our churches, although most are non-violent”.

Proof of location

The bishop also provided AFP Fact Check with photos of the chapel’s interior to confirm that the attack had taken place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

On the original, wider angle of the video, you can see several markers that match the Sacred Heart chapel, where the mass was held in 2020.

Screenshot of the video from Facebook (top left); photos of the location provided by Bishop Alleyne (bottom left and right)