As three Polish LGBTQ rights activists await trial, prominent Dutch priests, women religious, and lay leaders signed a letter to the public prosecutor calling the charges against the defendants “incomprehensible” and “downright shocking.”
According to Amnesty International, on March 2, 2021, the activists, Elzbieta Podlesna, Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar, and Anna Prus, were acquitted of “insulting religious feelings” in Poland after distributing pamphlets with an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa depicted with a rainbow halo, the international sign for LGBTQ people. The women were initially arrested in 2019. The prosecutor of the case now has appealed the acquittal, and the women stand trial again on December 8. They face a possible sentence of two years in prison.
In the wake of these charges and the upcoming appeals trial, a number of prominent Dutch Catholics have issued a letter in support of the three women. The letter states:
“The charges against the three women are incomprehensible and downright shocking to us. We know of no more powerful symbol of compassion and protection than Mary. She stands for unconditional love: all people in need, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, LGBT or not, can turn to her to find comfort and support. After all, it is with good reason that she also bears the special name ‘Our Lady of Refuge’.”
“Moreover, we believe that in depicting the Madonna with the rainbow halo, the three women have shown in a very powerful and beautiful manner how the Catholic Church should be loving and respectful towards LGBT people, and that it is precisely the task of the Catholic Church to also protect and support LGBT people when they are the victims of discrimination and marginalisation, and to offer them refuge.”
The group of Catholics also pointed to Pope Francis’ recent letter to Fr. James Martin, SJ in which the pontiff emphasized the importance of pastoral care to the LGBTQ community and urged the public prosecutor to “take the words of Pope Francis into consideration.”
Amnesty International Netherlands has also called upon the Polish prosecutor to drop the case against the activists, demonstrating at the Polish embassy in The Hague to deliver a petition with over 40,000 signatures. Amnety is concerned about the rule of law in Poland, stating in a report:
“According to Amnesty, the case is an attack on freedom of expression and symbolizes the violation of the Polish rule of law. ‘Since the ultra-conservative winds of the PiS government have been blowing through our country, the rule of law has been undermined and homophobia has been on the rise,’ said Mikołaj Czerwiński of Amnesty Poland. ‘This lawsuit against three brave women who only stood up for the LGBTI+ community is an attack on freedom of expression and must therefore be stopped immediately.’”
The charges against Elzbieta, Joanna, and Anna are deeply troubling and contrary to both the words of Pope Francis and Catholic Social Teaching, which emphasize mercy, compassion, and pastoral care for all Catholics. However, we can find Christ in the broad international community of prophetic resistance and support that has rallied behind these women. These activists remind a western audience of the dangers that afflict our LGBTQ siblings in other corners of the world and of the true universality of our church.
—Barbara Anne Kozee, New Ways Ministry, November 18, 2021