Vatican Arrests Femen Activist Who Bared Breasts in St Peter's Square

A topless activist of women's rights group Femen holds a European flag as she demonstrates inside Strasbourg's Cathedral on the eve of Pope Francis' visit to European institutions, in Strasbourg, November 24, 2014. Vincent Kessler/REUTERS/

The Vatican said on Friday it had arrested a member of women's rights group Femen who on Christmas Day bared her breasts and grabbed a statue of the baby Jesus from a nativity scene in front of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square.

Femen's website says the woman was protesting as part of its anti-clerical "Massacre of the Innocents" campaign contesting religions' "maniacal desire to control women's fertility".

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Ukrainian citizen Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanovawas being detained before questioning by a Vatican judge.

He said she was accused of vilification of religion, obscene acts in public, and theft. He said her action "offended the religious feelings of many people".

A Vatican policeman stopped Azhdanova, who had "God is woman" written on her chest, and covered her with his cape. She staged her protest shortly after Pope Francis had finished reading his Christmas greeting to the crowd.

Femen activists have staged protests at the Vatican before, the latest last month, and have been let go. But Lombardi said the Vatican had decided to be firm this time and arrest Azhdanova because her action was "particularly grave".

Lombardi said the group had "intentionally, repeatedly and gravely violated the right of the faithful to see their legitimate religious convictions respected".