On Wednesday, a group of naked women soaked Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard with Virgin Mary-shaped water bottles while he was speaking in Brussels. The women are allegedly members of the Ukranian-based feminist group FEMEN, which is famous for organizing topless protests against the Catholic Church and other organizations it feels are against the advancement of women.
The archbishop was discussing the subject of “a debate on blasphemy and freedom of expression held at the Brussels Free University (ULB) campus Tuesday evening,” according to AFP. The four protesters were "baring their breasts and squirting water at Archbishop Andre Leonard as they accused him of homophobia.”
As the women did this, the archbishop sat patiently with his hands folded in prayer and his eyes closed. AFP stated, “Security guards threw the women out of the hall within minutes as the archbishop remained quietly seated.”
The Belgian archbishop has been outspoken about his opinions on homosexuality. In March, he spoke with a Belgian newspaper and claimed that homosexuality is “a given that people find in themselves and whose origins remain mysterious.” He went on to further state that Christian homosexuals should be celibate.
The Catholic Church has been criticized for its strong opinions on homosexual relationships, and it responded to the incident stating that the protest was “the attitude of a few persons…in total contradiction with the theme of the debate and with the manner in which the Catholic Church hopes for dialogue.”
FEMEN published this post on its Facebook page after the incident: “If André Leonard has decided to inflict the punishment of abstinence and celibacy upon himself, FEMEN does not tolerate that he wants to impose that chastity on the gay community as the only remedy to what he defines as a disease.”
While it is ironic that the women involved in the protest wanted to make a point that there should be equality for all in the Catholic Church during a speech on freedom of expression, it is possible that they did not prove their point through their actions. For example, this protest could have been more effective if it was peaceful. By using bottles in the shape of one of the most important spiritual figures of Catholicism and spraying water on the priest while he continued to use nonviolence, it is as if these women attacked the priest himself instead of peacefully acting upon their beliefs.
Violent protests often hinder a cause instead of helping it. While these four women did not harm the archbishop, their actions, instead of a critique against his beliefs, could be viewed as a strike or bombardment against him. This could have absolutely been the point of FEMEN’s organized protest, but it’s possible that it would have been more effective if they chose a different approach in order to generate more sympathy to their cause.