MOSCOW - The Pussy Riot trial last summer captured worldwide attention and support from cultural icons like Madonna, Sting, and Paul McCartney. Now the case has attracted attention from a higher power: the pope. But unlike those musical superstars, Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly backed their condemnation.
The pope's stance was revealed in comments posted on the website of Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, following the pontiff's meeting at the Vatican on Tuesday with the patriarch's external affairs representative.
"Also discussed was the desecration of Christian holy sites in different countries and the act of vandalism at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in particular. Pope Benedict XVI expressed solidarity with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church and also his bewilderment over the reaction of the certain mass media to the events," the statement on Patriarch Kirill's website said.
Last month the Russian Orthodox Church urged the women to repent.
According to the Independent newspaper Pope Benedict XVI's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, would not confirm the comments, saying "I have nothing to say. This was reported on the site of the Russian Patriarch and it was about a meeting I was not privy to. I have no intention of disturbing the pope to ask him about it."
The case of the three young feminist punk rockers drew worldwide condemnation after they were convicted of "hooliganism" and sentenced to two years in prison in August for performing a "punk prayer" on the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. Video of the group dancing and singing on the altar was posted on YouTube, along with a song that begs for divine intervention to help rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.
Last week, an appeals court upheld the sentence for two of the women, who will serve their sentence in a women's penal colony, while commuting the sentence of a third woman who was released.
In comments broadcast ahead of the appeals hearing, Putin said he thought the sentence was justified. The case of the three women was seen as a bellwether of the Kremlin's patience with an unprecedented protest movement, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets calling on Putin to go.
Since Putin's inauguration for a third term as president in May, lawmakers from his United Russia have ushered in a string of laws restricting freedoms in Russia. That new legislation along with the case of the three young women was seen as an effort to intimidate Russia's opposition.