Bishop Athanasius Schneider has today issued an open letter forcefully condemning the use of the Pachamama statue at the Amazon Synod in the Vatican.
For those who might not be aware, the “Pachamamas” are a set of statues or figurines – goddess / fertility figures, for the Amazonian people, and idols to orthodox Christians – brought back to Rome from the already highly-controversial Amazonian Synod attended by the current Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, and were “used in an Oct. 4 Vatican Gardens ceremony, processed into St. Peter’s Basilica and kept at a side altar Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina on the via della Conciliazione.”
To say that this has evoked concern from many Roman Catholics (and others) is to risk severe understatement! Such concern that, a few days ago, a couple of intrepid traditional Catholics went so far as to spirit these images away from their location in the Church of Santa Maria, and throw them into the Tiber River (they have reportedly since been recovered, alas). Here is a video of the action itself:
Now, I confess that as a historian, amateur anthropologist and archaeologist, and (usually) appreciator of other cultures, my initial reaction was ambivalence: as a general rule, I do not support the vandalism of cultural artifacts. But as a dear friend and brother-in-Christ – who is also a retired professional archaeologist – aptly put it, when I expressed my mixed feelings to him, “there’s a place for things like that, but the church isn’t it.” I agree.
On the one hand, of course, I don’t have a dog in his fight: at least not directly. The Roman Catholic Church is not my jurisdiction; what goes on in it is not, again at least directly, my business. But the reality is that the Church of Rome – for its size, its history, the fact that it is the Mother Church of Western Christianity, and still the largest Church on the planet – casts a long shadow. What Rome says and does, matters.
And a lot of what Rome says and does these days, with Bergoglio (e.g., Pope Francis) occupying the See of Peter, is ambiguous, to say the least. An important article published last week in a Vatican newspaper asserted that “The Synod of the Amazon is called to be an occasion for ‘conversion’” – but the article makes it look very much as if it’s the Catholic Church itself, and not the peoples of the Amazon, that is to be converted!
An article in Crisis Magazine speaks of “two religions” now existing in the Catholic Church: traditional Catholicism, and this new species of syncretizing spirituality – polytheistic and pantheistic – according to historian Roberto de Mattei. This is seen, not only in the Pachamama controversy, but in Pope Francis’ Abu Dhabi Statement, in which he says that the “diversity of religions” is “willed by God.” Talk of “two religions” is very concerning to me, as it reminds me all too much of the situation in the Episcopal Church in the 1990s and early 2000s, while I was still a member.
De Mattei notes that “revolutions historically have long incubation periods but move dizzyingly fast once they explode. He believes that the current Church revolution has been simmering for 50 to 60 years and that now ‘it is possible that all will explode very, very rapidly.’ The passage from a material schism to a formal schism ‘could be dramatic and happen very, very, very rapidly.'” The repercussions, for the churches and for society at large, are difficult to imagine, and are unlikely to be positive.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in the article linked above, refers to the idolatrous display of the Pachamamas in church as a “Golden Calf” (a reference to the Biblical Exodus account); he even appears to allude to the “Abomination of Desolation” referred to in Macabees when he writes that it “would be good for all true Catholics, first and foremost bishops and then also priests and lay faithful, to form a worldwide chain of prayers and acts of reparation for the abomination of the veneration of wooden idols perpetrated in Rome during the Amazon Synod.” He continues,
“With tears in one’s eyes and with sincere sorrow in the heart, one should offer to God prayers of intercession and reparation for the eternal salvation of the soul of Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ on earth, and the salvation of those Catholic priests and faithful who perpetrated such acts of worship, which are forbidden by Divine Revelation.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has issued a strong statement against the erection of “idols” in that Roman church, stating
“The great mistake was to bring the idols into the Church, not to put them out, because according to the Law of God Himself – the First Commandment – idolism [idolatry] is a grave sin and not to mix them with the Christian liturgy.”
“To put it out,” Müller continues, “to throw it out, can be against human law, but to bring the idols into the Church was a grave sin, a crime against the Divine Law.”
“That is a deep difference.”
And Bishop Marian Eleganti, the auxiliary bishop of Chur, Switzerland, is among those (including a canon lawyer who is apparently requesting to remain anonymous, but points out specific violations of canon law) who have also lodged protests against the idolatry in the Vatican and at the Church of Santa Maria, noting that “It is not understandable to an observer that the publicly displayed veneration of Pachamama at the Amazon Synod is not meant to be idolatry,” and lamenting the fact that the Pope “even defends those rituals conducted in the Vatican Gardens” which are “alien to Christianity.”
As I say, it would be easy to dismiss these things with “not my Church.” But it is our Church. We may be sundered brethren at present, but we are all part of the mystical Body of Christ which is His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and what effects part, effects the whole. This is especially the case, as I mentioned above, with regard to Rome, due to its size and influence – for good or ill. How, then, should we respond?
Well, as Catholic blogger John Jalsevac points out in his blog “On the restoration of Christian culture,” that’s hard to say, but there is one thing we can do – all of us:
“So, what then? What are we to do? How are we to respond to all this chaos, this sideshow, this spiritual circus?
“I don’t know really. We are adrift amidst dark and uncharted waters. But here’s a little suggestion. I have, in my office in the basement of our house, a corner set aside. In that corner I have a double-sized prie dieux. It is made of oak, crafted for me by a friend. I gave it to my wife for one of our anniversaries. On the wall is a crucifix, and a pair of sconces with two candles each. Sometimes – less often than I should, I freely admit – I light those candles, and kneel down, and open the Gospels, or a book on prayer by a saint, and I read a little, and then I close my eyes, and I pray. I really, really pray.
“And when I do this, something within me changes. I am no longer distraught in the least at all this chaos. I no longer harbor any grudge against those I think are sowing confusion and chaos. Quite the contrary. I pray for them. Not with an ironic prayer (‘I’ll pray for you,’ we say passive-aggressively to those we disagree with on social media), but with a heartfelt prayer.
“Most of all, my eyes are opened to the fact that the greatest cause of the chaos in the world is my own sinfulness, my own personal distance from God. And I have an intense sense that I am doing precisely what I should be doing, and an intense desire to get better at it. And that getting better at it (praying, that is) is ultimately the one and only thing that really matters, and that if I did that, a great number of other things would begin to fall in place.”
It is trendy in modernist / postmodernist circles to disparage the power of prayer. “Thoughts and prayers? Psssht!” people say – or they say worse things. But prayer is one thing we are specifically enjoined, even commanded, to do, in my places in the Scriptures. And we are also reminded that though a solution to present ills may seem impossible, “with God, all things are possible!”
Bishop Athanasius Schneider offers a much more specific pattern, and although it is keyed to Roman Catholics and to Roman Catholic norms and understandings, perhaps in Christian love and fraternal charity even non-Romans might find it, or something like it, worth praying:
“Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, receive through the hands of the Immaculate Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary from our contrite heart a sincere act of reparation for the acts of worship of wooden idols and symbols, which occurred in Rome, the Eternal City and the heart of the Catholic world, during the Synod for the Amazon. Pour out in the heart of Our Holy Father Pope Francis, of the Cardinals, of the Bishops, of the priests and lay faithful, your Spirit, who will expel the darkness of the minds, so that they might recognize the impiety of such acts, which offended your Divine majesty and offer to you public and private acts of reparation.
Pour out in all members of the Church the light of the fulness and beauty of the Catholic Faith. Enkindle in them the burning zeal of bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, to all men, especially to the people in the Amazon region, who still are enslaved in the service of feeble material and perishable things, as they are the deaf and mute symbols and idols of “mother earth”, to all people and especially to the people of the Amazonian tribes, who do not have the liberty of the children of God, and who do not have the unspeakable happiness to know Jesus Christ and to have in Him part in the life of your Divine nature.
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you the one true God, besides Whom there is no other god and no salvation; have mercy on your Church. Look especially upon the tears and the contrite and humble sighs of the little ones in the Church, look upon the tears and prayers of the little children, of the adolescents, of young men and young women, of the fathers and mothers of family and also of the true Christian heroes, who in their zeal for your glory and in their love for Mother Church threw in the water the symbols of abomination which defiled her.
Have mercy on us: spare us, O Lord, parce Domine, parce Domine! Have mercy on us: Kyrie eleison!”