LGBT Virgin Mary triggers Polish activist's detention

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An old-fashioned painting of the Virgin Mary and child is seen printed on a piece of paper - but it has been modified so that the circular halo around both their heads, common to the Byzantine style, has been replaced with a rainbowImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Our Lady of Czestochowa is a revered Catholic icon in Poland - and the design upset many

The Polish civil rights activist who put up images of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo said she did so to protest against what she calls the "exclusion of LGBT people from society" by the country's Catholic Church.

The images were placed around the city of Plock late last month by Elzbieta Podlesna, in reaction to an Easter display there featuring slogans about crimes or sins.

Listed among the sins were "gender" and "LGBT".

"This is something that is unbelievable for me in the 21st Century in the centre of Europe," Ms Podlesna told the BBC.

"Nobody should be excluded from society. Sexual orientation is not a sin or a crime and the Holy Mother would protect such people from the Church and from priests who think it is okay to condemn others," she added.

The image Ms Podlesna chose was the "Our Lady of Czestochowa" icon. It has been revered by Catholics across Europe for centuries, and was symbolically crowned the "Queen of Poland" in the 17th Century.

Image caption,
Ms Podlesna argues that Catholic conservatism is marginalising gay people

Ms Podlesna works as a psychotherapist in a hospital. But early last week, police officers woke her shortly after 06:00 and searched her Warsaw apartment - confiscating laptops, a mobile telephone, pen drives and even a stack of old floppy discs.

She was then taken to Plock for questioning and was charged with offending religious feelings - a crime in Poland, punishable by up to two years in prison.

In a tweet, Poland's Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski applauded the police's actions, writing: "All that nonsense about freedom and 'tolerance' does not give ANYONE the right to insult the feelings of the faithful".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many came out in support of Ms Podlesna's activism

Warsaw's Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said the police action could easily be seen as "deliberately targeted repression" because Ms Podlesna is a well-known grassroots activist.

She was also one of a small group of women that were physically assaulted and spat on by young men for holding a placard with the words "stop fascism" during a 2017 Independence Day march organised by nationalist and far-right organisations.

Amnesty International has called on the Polish authorities to drop the case and allow her to continue her activities without harassment and reprisals from the authorities.

"I refuse to be told to shut up because there is a chance you will provoke somebody else. Wake up, defenders of human rights. Leave your offices, go out and say it is not fair," Ms Podlesna said.

Some Poles have shown their support for her by putting up rainbow-haloed Madonnas in Warsaw or adopting the image for their social media profile pictures.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A week ago supporters of Ms Podlesna protested against her arrest

Ms Podlesna, who believes in God but is no longer a practising Catholic, said she has received death threats following her actions.

"I would say there is something wrong with these feelings if they are hurt by something like this. It is very shallow," she said.

Apart from the image of the icon, she also stuck a list of names of Catholic bishops that have allegedly protected priests accused of sexually abusing children to the rubbish bins.

The issue is dominating the headlines here following the premiere on YouTube on Saturday of the documentary, "Only Don't Tell Anyone", which includes harrowing testimonies and footage of some victims confronting their abusers.

On Monday, Fr Dariusz Olejniczak - who was shown conducting a retreat for kids despite a lifetime ban on working with minors following his conviction for sexually abusing children - left his quarters in a Warsaw seminary and asked to be dismissed as a priest.

The Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, has again apologised to abuse victims and the head of the Polish Episcopate, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki thanked the filmmakers, Tomasz and Marek Sekielski, for making the documentary.

It has been watched by more than eight million people since it appeared on YouTube.