in what, if any, countries are churches still places of asylum for fugitives?

Just wondering if any countries still observe the medieval custom of granting fugitives sanctuary so long as they are in a church. If so, does it matter what kind of church?

My roommate suggested that Catholic churches are places of sanctuary in any country because they are technically considered parts of the Vatican, and consequently have embassy privileges. Is that right?


No, not true in America, or anywhere else, AFAIK. This has come up in a round about way in discussion about the church’s liability in child molestation cases. Because of it’s organizational structure, you can’t sue the Vatican for the actions of its priests. You go after the local diocese.

This might be different in countries where there is a state-sponsored religion, and there are a surprisingly large number of them. But I doubt it.

Civil authorities hesitate to go into churches because of bad publicity, and a certain amount of tradition. Note that when General Noriega sought assylum with the Vatican, he went to their actual embassy, which IS protected ground.

My church always keeps a door open for sanctuary. I don’t know if the police would enter or not. But the intent is for sanctuary. It is an Episcopal church.

Pretty much as I suspected. Thanks!

In the Sanctuary thread, it was noted that the practice (which I suspect was only enforced where the Church held strong temporal power), had pretty much disappeared from Europe by the end of the eighteenth century.

During the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, church people and other humanitarian activists sheltered people fleeing Central American countries because their lives were threatened by Ronald Reagan’s surrogates the Contras or the death squads of Reagan’s proxies the brutal military regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala, and the INS refused to allow these refugees into the United States. The Sanctuary Movement defied the law by taking them in. What was the legal outcome of that? IIRC, the law denied the churches any right of sanctuary for these refugees.

What about Noriega?

While the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s was organized by churches, the the refugees were not simply placed in a church building with the expectation that the Feds would leave them alone. Rather, the congregations of the churches agreed to find safe houses for those people (much in the way that the Underground Railroad worked 120+ years earlier).

Noriega did not hole up in a church. He went to the Vatican embassy in Panama and sought [political asylum. The choice of the Vatican embassy may have been prompted by the fact that the U.S. and the Vatican had not established an ambassadorial relationship at that time, making it more difficult for the U.S. to officially request that Noriega be handed over. The Vatican ambassador was probably rather embarrassed to have old pineapple face hanging around, but he was obligated under the protocols of diplomatic missions to give Noriega a place to stay as a refugee.

There was an episode of Law & Order where a suspect was given santuary at a church. They said there was precident to support it. Now I am not suggesting that because it was in Law & Order that it has to be true, but it’s my understanding that they try to make it as true to life/the law as possible. So maybe there is something to it…

What about last year in Bethlehem when the dozens of Palestinians were caught up in that church/monastery?

IIRC, they gave up voluntarily and were handed over by the monks that remained.

Yeah, and five minutes later in the same episode, a judge holds that there was no modern-day right to “sanctuary.”

For a period in the 1990s, a number of individuals and families who had sought political asylum in Norway and had been turned down sought sanctuary in churches - not in the church sanctuary itself, but in social rooms and so on attatched - rather than face expulsion. As long as they stayed in the church buildings, the police did not go in after them. One by one, however, they gave up and allowed themselves to be sent home.

I don’t believe the law prohibited the police from going in, it was more a matter of custom and of not wanting to make what was an embarrassing situation for them and for the government even worse.

As for Catholic churches being “part of the Vatican”… well, to this former Catholic that’s uncomfortably close to the accusations that Catholics can’t be counted on to be loyal to their country because they owe their first allegiance to the Pope :rolleyes: I don’t think your roommate meant any harm, but we do aim to stamp out ignorance here. The Vatican isn’t synonymous with the Roman Catholic Church, although they’re obviously tightly linked, and I’m unaware of any country in which Catholic churches have a special political status.

Ya. They couldn’t possibly have been fleeing the Sandinistas and other assorted marxists. :rolleyes:

Well, they possibly could have, but, in fact, none were. (Especially since Reagan and company would have loved to have honored someone seeking asylum from those terrible Sandanistas as a publicity coup in favor of the Somozan National Guards that the administration was calling Contras.) Most actually came from Guatemala and El Salvador, fleeing the right-wing governments that the U.S. was propping up. There were illegal immigrants who were fleeing the general carnage of the wars, but the ones who sought sanctuary, fearing to be murdered if they were returned to their countries, were those who were threatened by the death squads associated with the groups supported by the U.S.