A Paris court on Wednesday let off all nine Femen members accused of damaging the bell when they burst into Notre Dame, breasts bared and shouting “Pope no more!” and “Clear off, homophobe!”, and struck three new bells waiting to hung with pieces of wood.
Their demonstration was organised to mark the resignation of pope Benedict XVI in February 2013.
The court found that it was impossible to tell whether they were responsible for damage caused to one of the bells and that no intention to cause damage had been proved since they had covered the wood with felt, according to their lawyer Michaël Ghnassia.
But it did find three of Notre Dame’s security guards guilty of assaulting them when they put an end to the protest and bundled out of the cathedral, handing them suspended fines of 300 euros, 500 euros and 1,000 euros.
“We’re very satisfied with this decision,” Ghnassia told the Reuters news agency. “Legal arguments won the day in a case where emotion was running high.”
Femen had threatened to “invade all Catholic sites with our holy breasts”, if they were found guilty.
There was indignation in right-wing Catholic circles after the verdict was announced.
The court had signed a “permit to damage and for non-respect of our holy places”, abbé Pierre-Hervé Grosjean a priest at Saint-Cyr, near Paris, tweeted.
Former housing minister Christine Boutin, who heads the small Christian Democrat Party, declared the judgement shameful, claiming that it has legalised the “right to unabashed blasphemy”.
One of the Femen members found not guilty on Wednesday is to appear in court again on 15 October.
Eloïse Bouton is accused of sexual exhibitionism after having mimed an abortion in front of the altar of Paris’s Madeleine Church shortly before Christmas last year.
She has since left the movement.