Four militants belonging to FEMEN — a Ukraine-based “feminist” group which organizes topless protests at people and things they dislike — yesterday evening attacked the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Andre-Joseph Leonard, as he took part in a university debate on (of all subjects) freedom of speech and blasphemy.
Shortly after Archbishop Leonard began his remarks, they clambered onto the stage, topless, and drenched Archbishop Leonard, while shouting abuse. Their bodies were covered in deliberately blasphemous slogans such as “ANUS DEI IS COMING” or statements of belief in radical autonomy, such as MY BODY MY RULES.
They said their protest was against Archbishop Leonard’s “homophobia”. Their statement claimed that “FEMEN consistently opposes religious propaganda of violence, homophobia, and attempts made by the church to resume its destructive […] influence on women and society in general.”
On Facebook, Femen’s Belgian branch has further spelled out that what they object to is that “If [Archbishop Leonard] decided to inflict on himself the punishment which are abstinence and celibacy, Femen does not tolerate that he wishes to impose this chastity on the homosexual community”.
In other words, the Archbishop’s “homophobia” was no more than an expression of the Church’s teaching — imposed on no one, but available to anyone freely to accept — that those unable to marry are called to chastity.
Archbishop Leonard was taking part in a debate organized by the philosophy department of the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and the League for the Abolition of Laws Repressing Blasphemy. He was calm throughout the assault, and appeared to be praying for his assailants.
Professor Guy Haarscher, who was debating the archbishop, said afterwards:
What most shocked me was the attitude of the photojournalists present. When we arrived in the hall, we were both surprised by the number of photographers — about a dozen of them. Obviously they photographed the whole scene, then left with the Femen [militants]. We must therefore deplore this event as something concocted between the Femen [militants] and the photographers to sell pictures. The proof was that very shortly afterwards the pictures were on Lalibre.be and other sites.
In their statement today, the Belgian bishops’ conference said that “a democratic debate about social questions is only possible if we allow everyone to express their ideas in mutual respect and with freedom of expression. The attitude of some yesterday evening in this respect entirely lacks credibility or any civic sense, while being entirely contradictory of the theme of the debate, and with the way in which the Catholic Church understands dialogue in a context of pluralism”.