ROME – Police on Christmas detained a member of a women’s rights group describing itself as composed of “brave topless female activists” after she attempted to steal the baby Jesus figure from the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, protesting what the group claimed is the “Vatican’s infringement of the rights of women to their own bodies.”
The group, known as “Femen,” cited the Catholic Church’s positions on abortion and birth control as the motives for its actions.
The Christmas Day protestor was identified by the group as Alisa Vinogradova, a Ukrainian and self-described “sextremist.” Topless at the time she grabbed the baby Jesus doll, while tens of thousands of people were gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis’s traditional Urbi et Orbi message (“to the city and the world”), the 25-year-old Vinogradova had “God is woman” written on her torso.
According to reports in the Italian press, Vinogradova was standing near a waist-level circular bar that blocks access to the nativity scene when she threw her purse to the ground, took off a coat revealing herself to be topless, began shouting “God is woman” in English, and then hopped the bar to steal the baby Jesus image.
Vinogradova was arrested by police officials from both Italy and the Vatican before she could flee the scene, and the image of the Christ child, known by Italians as the bambinello, was placed back in its traditional spot in the nativity scene.
The protestor was charged with “resistance and injuries to a public official, offenses to a religious confession, attempted theft and obscene acts in a public place,” all of which are considered criminal offenses under Italian law.
Also according to Italian reports, a 22-year-old Ukrainian was arrested on the scene and charged with being an accomplice to the theft. Those reports said the “General Investigations and Special Operations Division” of the Italian police had also seized phones and computers belonging to the two women, in an effect to link them and Femen to other “analogous” actions.
This was not the first time Femen has attempted to disrupt the Vatican’s nativity scene. Members of the group also tried to take away the baby Jesus image in 2014, although that time too Vatican police interrupted the operation.
Femen posted a message explaining the attempted theft, saying: “A child is not from a god, but from a woman! For a woman is God!”
St. Peter’s Square was not the only spot located in Italy that had problems with its baby Jesus figure over the Christmas holidays.
The mayor of Viareggio in northern Tuscany, for instance, took to his Facebook account to complain that after white-toned statues of the baby Jesus had been stolen from the town’s nativity set in recent years, this time they placed a black-skinned figure in hopes of avoiding another theft – and it, too, was stolen.
Meanwhile, in the small town of Naso in Sicily, the image of the baby Jesus in the municipal nativity set was smashed by unknown vandals, leading the local pastor to post on his own Facebook page, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they’re doing.”