ROME — The Vatican canceled a friendly soccer match between its new women’s team and a team in Vienna, after a number of Austrian players staged a protest against the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion.
The Vatican team marched off the field Saturday after a number of the Austrian players lifted up their jerseys to reveal pro-abortion and pro-LGBT messages painted on their stomachs and backs while the Vatican anthem was playing before kick-off.
One of the players, for instance, had the slogan “my body my rules” painted across her lower back, while another had a picture of ovaries. Activists also displayed banners in the stands with similar messages, while others handed out leaflets expressing opposition to the Church’s teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage.
Vatican News reported that the women’s team decided to leave the field at the Mariahilf football club (FCM) in Vienna rather than lend themselves to a protest against the Church. The women were reportedly dismayed that the Austrian team had chosen to instrumentalize the sport for the sake of pro-abortion and pro-LGBT ideology.
“The protest took the Vatican players by surprise, who were expecting a simple sporting event, and together with their manager, they made the difficult decision not to take part in the match so as not to further the exploitation of the event,” Vatican News said.
The match was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of FCM and among the fans who had come out to watch the game was the papal nuncio to Austria, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana.
FCM, which had invited the Vatican team to the game, issued an apology Tuesday while distancing itself from the actions of individual players.
“The action of the three players was independently organized and carried out,” FCM stated. “We sincerely apologize to the Vatican team’s players and guests from near and far that the game was not played.”
In its statement, FCM said that “tolerance, diversity, of life forms, and peaceful coexistence are important to us, as we have pointed out with rainbow symbols. We therefore understand the demands and message of our players, but we find the timing of their expression inappropriate and therefore understand the emotion it caused.”
The Vatican women’s team played its first match in May against a club from Rome and lost 10-0. The Vienna game was scheduled to be their first international match.
The team reportedly accepted the invitation from FCM on the recommendation of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who had assured the Vatican team that FCM was a serious team that was strongly committed to charity.