French War Criminal Arrested at Monastery
France’s most wanted war criminal, Paul Touvier, was arrested today after 45 years on the run, and church sources said the building where he was seized belonged to excommunicated traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
A police spokesman said Touvier, leader of the militia that collaborated with Nazi Germany in the southeastern French city of Lyon during World War II, was arrested on the grounds of a monastery near the southern city of Nice.
French radio said Touvier, 74, had been sheltered by French religious authorities since the end of the war. He was flown to Paris immediately after his arrest for interrogation by an investigating magistrate.
Senior sources in France’s Roman Catholic Church later told Reuters that the priory where Touvier was arrested belonged to Lefebvre.
The sources said the municipality of Nice had given the Priory of Saint-Francois in central Nice to the Saint Pius X Fraternity, Lefebvre’s movement.
Touvier headed the militia that helped occupying German forces track down resistance fighters. He is believed to have worked closely with Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, jailed for life in France in 1987 for war crimes.
Touvier was twice sentenced to death in absentia but finally pardoned by the late President Georges Pompidou in 1972, although resistance movements later brought charges against him of crimes against humanity.
A French newspaper carried the announcement of his death in 1984, but police always suspected that Touvier was still alive.
Touvier joined the Vichy regime that collaborated with Nazi Germany during the war, and was quickly promoted to head the police force of Lyon, a center of the French resistance.
Historian Henri Amouroux told French radio: “The resistance movement accuses the church and its hierarchy of protecting Touvier, and I believe that is true.
“Touvier’s trial will reawaken many painful moments from the war and also drag the church into having to give an embarrassing explanation of why it protected him,” Amouroux added.