It was an attack of unreasoning rage and unrelenting hatred on one of the world's greatest symbols of love and peace, life and hope.
On Christmas Day in the heart of Catholic Christianity, St. Peter's Square in Rome, the leftist radical and militant feminist group, Femen, staged another of its outrageous "happenings" against its favourite target, the Catholic Church. On one of Christianity's holiest days, a Femen member, Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanova, a Ukrainian citizen, invaded the square's famous nativity scene and seized the statuette of the Baby Jesus. The scandalous act occurred shortly after Pope Francis had given his traditional Christmas greeting to the crowd of faithful when many people were still present on the square.
"Femen's website says the woman was protesting as part of its anti-clerical 'Massacre of the Innocents' campaign contesting religions' "maniacal desire to control women's fertility'," reported Reuters.
Femen originated in Ukraine in 2008 where it opposed Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church, which it regards as Putin's ally. The women's rights group, international in membership, is perhaps most famously known for performing their protests, or "happenings," as it calls them, bare-breasted.
Azhdanova was no exception. After removing her shirt, she appeared topless in the creche with the words "God is woman" written in English on her exposed chest. At other 'happenings', onlookers have been treated to such aggressive slogans as 'my body is my weapon', 'religion is slavery', 'God is dead', 'f**k church', and 'women's rights first'.
Fortunately, a Vatican policeman was able to stop Azhdanova and recover the statuette before she could carry it off. He led her away, covering her nakedness with his policeman's cloak. Azhdanova was arrested by Vatican authorities and accused her of "vilification of religion, obscene acts in public and theft," was later released freed.
"[The group has] intentionally, repeatedly and gravely violated the right of the faithful to see their legitimate religious convictions respected," said Father Frederico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman.
While much attention has been paid to the danger creeping Islamisation presents to European societies, the threat militant secular humanism poses to Western civilization is sometimes overlooked. It is largely this leftist secularism, however, that is responsible for having pushed Christianity in Western Europe out of the public space and the marketplace of ideas to society's fringes, by such measures as banning Christian symbols in the classrooms and nativity scenes in public buildings, among others.
This impulse to de-Christianise Europe is so strong and has enjoyed such success over the past decades that the European Union's constitution does not even recognise the continent's Christian roots. As a result, exposure to Christianity is now confined primarily to the churches, where, the left hopes, it will atrophy.
But even in its holy sanctuaries, Christianity is not safe from the radical left. Militant atheists are violating, even physically invading, churches and other sacred Christian places to erase Europe's last ties to the religion that formed it. And the Femen are the best known storm troopers of this sacrilegious movement.
Nowhere in Europe has Femen conducted its anti-Catholic campaign more vigorously and "gravely and repeatedly violated" the rights and "legitimate religious convictions" of the Catholic faithful than in France, where it is now based. The reason for this is that there exists among the French left a greater tolerance than in other European countries for anti-Christian acts that dates back to the French Revolution. During that great upheaval, churches and cathedrals, such as Paris's famous Notre Dame, were turned into 'Temples of Reason' to reflect the new atheistic thinking. And ceremonies celebrating the revolutionaries' new goddess, Reason, replaced the traditional mass.
This long, two hundred-year history of anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism is responsible for producing in France the current environment of intolerance towards Christianity. This intolerance, found especially among leftist and liberal political politicians and media elites, in turn, has been conducive to Femen's anti-Christian activities.
"The Femen thus know that they are able to count on the support of a certain number of opinion leaders, media outlets and intellectual backing," wrote Julie Graziani, a spokesperson for an association of young French Catholics, in Le Figaro.
It is also this negative tolerance that has allowed Femen activists to escape almost unscathed any legal punishment in French courts. The most recent example occurred only days before the Saint Peter Square incident. A Femen siren, Eloise Bouton, received a one-month suspended sentence from a French judge for a "happening" she staged in Paris's St. Madeleine church in December, 2013.
Using the customary Femen tactics of "caricature, provocation, blasphemy, and intolerance" to garner media attention, Bouton had invaded St. Madeleine several days before Christmas (these women must really have something against the birth of Jesus) and took up a position (bare-breasted, of course) before the altar and the astonished eyes of about a dozen parishioners and choir members present.
Wearing a biblical-like head-covering to appear like the Holy Mother Mary, Bouton proceeded to mimic an abortion, leaving pieces of bloody calf liver on the altar steps to symbolise the aborted foetus of Jesus. Bouton concluded her act of profanation "'a la sauce Femen," as one French journalist called it, by urinating on the floor. (A similar, blasphemous "happening" occurred only days later during Christmas mass in Germany's ancient Cologne cathedral. A Femen sitting in a front row pew suddenly disrobed and jumped, bare-breasted and screaming, on to the altar with "I am God" emblazoned on her chest).
As per Femen custom, Bouton's bare chest and stomach were also not left bare. This time, they displayed the message "343 salopes" (sluts). This lovely communication refers to a manifesto by 343 women calling for the decriminalisation of abortion. On her back, in English, was written the anti-Christian message: "Christmas is annulled. Jesus is aborted." Bouton was convicted on the charge of "sexual exhibition."
Unsurprisingly, Bouton believes she did nothing wrong. Her defense was that she was carrying out a political act and not a sexual one. Femen's politics uses the nude female body as a placard "to convey a message" and "not to seduce." Bouton said she had wanted less "to shock" with her nudity than to provoke a realization about abortion rights, not "to create an emotional reaction but a reflection."
It is, however, difficult to comprehend Bouton's thinking. How is going into a church a few days before Christmas and standing bare-breasted before the altar while simulating an abortion of the infant Jesus not going to shock and create "an emotional reaction" among Christians and not cause them to feel their private, spiritual sphere and sense of sacredness have been violated? The same could be said about the attempted theft of the Jesus statuette in Rome.
Besides, there are those who believe that the Femen group's anti-Christian outrages are counter-productive in combating women's exploitation, the cause it claims to champion, but instead promote it. French writer Lydia Guirous, for example, states that "one can only be sceptical" of Femen's "mode of action."
"Actually, they are fighting exploitation of the woman and of the woman's body by a curious pirouette that consists of exhibiting their nudity," Guirous states. "They are therefore making of their body an object of blackmail directed at the public powers. Their body is therefore a product, a merchandise."
Not recognising the barbarism of her actions, it is also not surprising that Bouton was indignant about her sentence, saying she will appeal.
"It is a disproportionate and discriminatory conviction, a disguised trial for blasphemy, which sends the message that a woman who uses nudity to defend ideas is not a political militant but a mentally ill person," she told the French newspaper Le Parisien. "...The penalty is severe because I am a woman and because I conducted an action in a church."
But France's Catholic faithful and their non-Christian supporters were probably lucky to even get a conviction in the St. Madeleine case. Last September, nine Femen members, charged with damaging one of Notre Dame's three new bells, were acquitted in court. Displaying the customary naked, slogan-covered chests, the nine harpies stormed France's most famous cathedral in February of 2013, after Pope Benedict had announced his resignation. They proceeded to ring the bells, on display in the nave, by hitting them with wooden sticks, while screaming "Pope no more" and calling him a homophobe.
"We are celebrating the departure of the pope and the legalisation of homosexual marriage in France," said one of the demonstrators. "Shame on the Church, shame on religion!"
France's faithful were scandalised by the nine Femen members' September acquittal. In its ruling, the court stated it could not determine whether it was the demonstrators who had damaged the St. Marcel bell. And to rub salt into the wound, three of Notre Dame's security personnel, who the Femen accused of "violence," were fined (a Cologne Cathedral guard was also fined for having struck the Christmas mass disrupter when removing her).
"The French Republic considers it more serious to hit women than to hit bells," Femen celebrated on Twitter after the acquittal.
These anti-Christian outrages are only two of the most egregious ones to have occurred recently in France. Catholic churches and cemeteries across the country have been vandalised and desecrated for many years. Last year, Paris's Saint-Nicolas-Du-Chardonnet church was even subjected to a co-ordinated, anti-Christian attack. While two persons threw stink bombs into the church during a mass, an accomplice sitting in the pews used the diversion to throw a smoke bomb at the priest, causing an explosion and flames to shoot out.
Anti-Christian acts against churches in France have become so numerous and the response of French authorities so tepid that 115,000 French believers sent Pope Francis a petition last year informing him about this situation as well as about government policies they deem anti-Christian. The pontiff was requested to raise these issues in his upcoming meeting with France's socialist president, Francois Hollande.
"...the proliferation of anti-Christian acts and words have caused an reverberation of uneasiness among numerous Catholics in France, (who were) forced to notice the general indifference in which the profanation of churches was carried on, even the media and political tolerance reserved for their authors," writes Graziani, whose group initiated the petition.
This profaning of churches and nativity scenes by Femen and other radical leftists must be called what it really is: anti-Christian hatred. The supposed humanitarian causes they espouse, such as women's and abortion rights, are simply a cover for this hatred, much like anti-Israeli protests are a disguise for Jew-hatred. The fact that Femen activists never invade mosques and disrupt Muslim religious activities to uphold women's rights reinforces this view. And although it says it wants all religions to disappear, the "happenings" Femen has conducted in Iran, Turkey and Tunisia have been political in nature rather than religious.
But it is not the Femen and other radical leftists who pose the greatest threat to Christianity and the Church in France. After all, it is highly unlikely that a few bared breasts can bring down an institution that has existed since the baptism of Clovis in Reims on Christmas Day in 496 C.E. It is rather the reported indifference to these radical atheists and their acts of persecution against the Church that is more alarming. Tragically for Europe, history has shown that such indifference only succeeds in preparing the way for totalitarianism, and one that could finish the left's cherished goal of eliminating European Christianity.