Catholic bishops express ‘pain and sadness’ at Poland's ‘rainbow halo’ verdict

Our Lady of Czestochowa Credit Catholic Church of England and Wales via Flickr CC BY NC SA 20 filter added CNA Our Lady of Cze?stochowa. | Catholic Church of England and Wales via Flickr CC BY NC SA 2.0) filter added.

Catholic bishops in the Polish Diocese of Płock expressed "pain and sadness" on Wednesday at the verdict in Poland's "rainbow halo" trial.

In a March 3 statement, the three bishops said they did not agree with a court ruling that three activists who distributed images depicting the revered Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo were not guilty of offending religious feelings.

"It is with pain and sadness that we have accepted the verdict of the District Court in Płock, dated March 2, 2021, in the case concerning the profanation of the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in our city, in April 2019," they said.

"We note that the actions involved in the court proceedings clearly violated the social order and -- in their essence -- contradict the idea of tolerance claimed by the perpetrators."

The statement was signed by Bishop Piotr Libera of Płock, auxiliary Bishop Mirosław Milewski, and retired auxiliary Bishop Roman Marcinkowski.

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial in Płock, central Poland, on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported on March 2 that the judge concluded that the activists did not intend to offend religious sensibilities or to insult the venerated image of the Virgin Mary, housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa.

The judge reportedly added that their actions were aimed at protecting people facing discrimination.

The case concerned an incident in April 2019, when the three women placed posters of the icon with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus in locations around Płock.

The activists said that they attached the posters to walls and around a church in the city in response to a display inside the church which listed "LGBT" and "gender" -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display as "homophobic" and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of "people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity."

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

The three women faced trial under Article 196 of the country's penal code, which says that "Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years."

Speaking after her acquittal, Podleśna said that the prosecutor's office was likely to appeal against the verdict.

Catholic Action in the Diocese of Płock expressed its "utmost concern" at the ruling.

In a March 4 statement, it said that its members "cannot come to terms with the sentence of the court, which can be interpreted as consent to openly and publicly offend the feelings of believers and to profanation of the Jasna Góra image of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The Płock bishops commented: "We do not agree with the verdict, which has already been described by many as the state's open consent to actions against the Catholic religion, the honor of the Mother of God and objects of devotion associated with her, as well as the feelings of Catholics."

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"We express our deep hope that the court of second instance, in accordance with the law, will speak out against this profanation, restoring the disturbed sense of justice."

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