Vatican releases Femen activist who stole Baby Jesus while topless on Christmas Day

(Photo: Max Rossi/Reuters)Pope Francis holds the statue of baby Jesus at the end of the Christmas night mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican December 24, 2014.

Iana Zhdanova is free once more.  The Vatican released the Ukrainian activist after arresting her for stealing a replica of the Baby Jesus from the St Peter's Square nativity scene while topless on Christmas day.

Vatican spokesperson Rev Federico Lombardi said the Holy See prosecutor, though recognising the legality of Zhdanova's arrest, did not charge her with anything and ordered her freed after seeing her on Saturday. She was however banned from Vatican City or any Vatican property outside of the city-state.

Zhdanova, a member of the female activist group Femen known for baring their breasts to protest for women's rights, reportedly had the words "God is a Woman" written on her chest when she snatched the Baby Jesus figurine in the square on Thursday, about an hour after Pope Francis had greeted and blessed tens of thousands of faithful for Christmas.

Other reports claim that she shouted "God is woman" while stealing the statue.

A Vatican guard immediately covered Zhdanova with his cloak as he took her into custody.

Zhdanova was held for questioning on Friday while the Vatican police considered possible charges for "disturbing the peace, obscene acts in a public place, and theft."

Lombardi said the incident was taken seriously as it aimed to "intentionally offend the religious sentiments of a very large number of people."

The Vatican spokesperson also noted that Femen had previously targeted the Vatican, saying that three members of the activist group protested Pope Francis's visit to the European Parliament by storming St Peter's Square topless last month.

"It is therefore correct to proceed with the appropriate rigor against repeated acts that intentionally, repeatedly and severely infringe on the right of the faithful to the respect of their legitimate religious convictions," Lombardi said in a statement.

The Vatican had the choice of trying Zhdanova in a Vatican court or having her expelled to be tried in an Italian court, but it has decided to do neither.