A human rights activist was arrested in Poland after distributing posters that show the Virgin Mary and Jesus with halos made of LGBTQ rainbows. Prosecutors say the woman, Elzbieta Podlesna, broke Polish law by insulting religious beliefs. She faces up to two years in prison if convicted.
Authorities claim the sensitivity of the situation is increased because the image is an altered form of the icon of Mother of God of Czestochowa, one of the most holy images to Polish Catholics. TIME Magazine reports that Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki claimed the art is part of a larger effort to “humiliate Catholics.”
Many, however, have spoken out against Podlesna’s arrest. European Council president Donald Tusk, a native of Poland, characterized the authorities’ actions as overly harsh and “inconceivable” while in the country this week.
Some within the Church have also spoken against the arrest. Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who is a vocal advocate of LGBTQ people as well as being consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for communications, wrote a public Facebook post about the arrest that has been commented on by hundreds. He noted that the rainbow image need not be viewed as an insult–or even as a protest:
“The idea that LGBT Catholics might feel comforted by an image that suggests the Blessed Mother and Jesus love them seems not to have occurred to the authorities here. At least to me, the image looks less like a protest and more like a plea for love.
“After all, the Blessed Mother and Jesus are frequently depicted in clothes, and with images, intended to help people in a certain locale, or among a certain group, to feel closer to them. A rainbow is an obvious way to try to bring them into the devotional life of LGBT people. …
“In short, are Mary and Jesus only for straight people?”
The arrest comes as Poland’s hard-right Law and Justice party continues to consolidate power over the judiciary. Their authoritarian tendencies and harsh language towards migrants, Muslims, and LGBTQ people have led to international condemnation.
They have made inroads, however, with the country’s Catholic Church. The Law and Justice party sees the Church as a natural ally after decades of Catholic opposition to Communist rule, and many observers believe that the party has played to homophobic fears as a tactic to win the Catholic vote.
–Jonathan Nisly, New Ways Ministry, May 17, 2019