“Pachamama” Confusion: Fault of Vatican or Catholic Media?

“Pachamama” Confusion: Fault of Vatican or Catholic Media? November 12, 2019

This was a cordial dialogue I had with Facebook friend Gregory Danowski on my page. His words will be in blue.

See my two earlier related articles:

“Pachamama” [?] Statues: Marian Veneration or Blasphemous Idolatry? (11-5-19)

“Pachamama” Fiasco: Hysterical Reactionaryism, as Usual (11-8-19)


Whether or not the statues represent an Amazonian deity or Mary is moot. The fact that they are confusing enough to be mistaken for an earth deity is enough.

St. Paul was clear on this point. Sure, he could eat food sacrificed to dead gods because they meant nothing to him. But since they might cause scandal and mislead people away from Christ, then he would avoid doing so.

The same principle applies here. Given the unclear and confusing nature of the statues, forcing large portions of people whose conscience is bothered by them to accept them or worse, to ridicule such people, is contrary to the Holy Spirit.

The wisest course of action would have been to remove the statues, put them in a Vatican art gallery as a curiosity to allay any anxiety of Christians and be done with it. Instead we have turned it into a dispute.

As an artist, I can tell you that a third possibility that no one has entertained is that the statues are a hybrid of both Mary and the Amazonian deity. Yes, such hybrids have happened in other cultures. However to elevate such statues with questionable meaning using questionable rituals that require Dave to write reams in defense of them seems to me to be a ripe candidate for scandal that could have been easily avoided.

I agree that it could and should have been handled much better. Virtually everyone does. But it’s certainly not “moot” if someone like Fr. Mitch Pacwa thinks it is perfectly obvious that they are idols, and says, “we’re not stupid“: perhaps (but not necessarily) implying that those who think otherwise may suffer from that malady.

Charging fellow Catholics with rank idolatry (and others with promoting / defending it) is a very serious charge. So I suggest that those who think this occurred prove it. This they have not done, and so I believe we see a subtle shifting away to or far greater emphasis on this “impressions / perceptions / causing scandal / PR” argument, which is a logically distinct one.

In other words, the most loudmouthed (and generally reactionary) critics couldn’t prove beyond any doubt that idolatry was occurring — with appropriate and requisite documentation — and so the discussion shifted to “well, it sure as hell looks like idolatry!” But of course lots of things look like it, which is why one must examine the interior dispositions of those so accused.

Again, we return to St. Paul’s example. He did not rail at the criticism bestowed on him but instead shrugged, acknowledged that eating the food was not an issue and why, and then agreed not to do so again to avoid further scandal. He did not defend himself by saying his intentions are goo, get over it and that he would continue to eat from the sacrifices food even if it caused great doubt among the Christian followers.

All that has to happen is for the Pope or a ranking official to humbly suggest what I wrote and that while they do not believe the statues are an issue, to humbly set them aside respectfully in order to alleviate past scandal.

Unfortunately, I personally know too many religious who actually think blending native rituals with Christianity as okay. They argue that the rituals indirectly worshiped the one God even though under a different name. They point to the similarities of the deities to the Christian religion. Perhaps in a divine way this is true and maybe leads these indigenous peoples to the One True Father , but it is a dangerous precedent that has led many religious nuns and priests into new age heresies which they think are completely okay because they see no inconsistencies with practicing both simultaneously. This may or may not be such a case. But it doesn’t matter if it is greatly disturbing our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reconciliation is needed, not finger pointing.

I think the Vatican and the pope should clarify, but so often they do not. Instead, it is left to apologists and doctors and lawyers (Gabriel and Giunta) to do so, and no one cares what we think. But sadly, at this point, I highly doubt whether the legion of papal critics would even care what the pope thought, even if he did clarify.

The main finger pointing is at the folks in the ceremony as alleged idolaters. That is big-time accusation. Yet if I try to defend them (even extend simple fairness and the benefit of the doubt to them) I catch hell.

So again, I agree with you about clarification and prudence. I disagree that that is a bigger issue than the mountain of (as far as I can tell) false accusations towards the Amazonian people who did the tree-planting ceremony.

If people want basic clarification, I would point out that the pope blessed one of the statues and said that the ceremony was not of “idolatrous intent.” But of course, many of the critics no longer care what he says in the first place, and (I would say) that is the true root of the whole thing.

The hostile Catholic conservative media blows it up a billion times bigger than it would ever have been, when there was no basis or need to do so, people are scandalized as a result, then they blame the pope for what they deliberately created to make him look bad.

I think the closer “Paul and idols and causing scandal” analogy is to Paul preaching in Athens (Acts 17). He mentioned the “tomb to an unknown god” which was certainly pagan and quite arguably an idol as well (if the building and/or any figure in it were venerated or outright worshiped and adored).

But he didn’t rail against it and demand that it be torn down, or dismantle it himself (a la St. Boniface and the pagan oak tree in Germany, or the young Austrian zealot who threw the statues into the Tiber). Rather, he used it to build upon what they already knew, and to share the gospel and the true God with them. And that was indisputably false religion, whereas in this instance it hasn’t even been proven that some sort of paganism / idolatry, and/or syncretism was taking place.

While I recognize the central importance of image and perception and subjectivism in our postmodernist world, I will always highlight objective truths. Hence, I am far more concerned, in the scheme of things, with what actually happened, not nearly as much about how it was perceived (though I acknowledge that that is a valid and legitimate concern as well).

Unless we determine whether idolatry took place or not we can’t really talk about it intelligently or constructively, and no “solution” will be forthcoming. But I would say that the lying, unscrupulous “conservative” Catholic media (particularly the many extreme reactionary outlets: One Peter Five, Lifesite News, The Remnant, Church Militant, Taylor “tin foil hat” Marshall et al) has already done its gargantuan damage, and that that can’t and won’t be undone, anymore than the scrambled egg can ever be unscrambled. They did their dirty propagandist work, and now we see the sad and troubling results of it.

God is not mocked. If they keep on like this, I think their “house” is gonna come down one day. They’re playing with fire. One can’t keep fighting / opposing the pope and telling outright lies and not be in serious spiritual danger.

At least we’re actually talking normally and cordially back and forth, and you make some semblance of a case; something different from the current talking-points. I appreciate that very much. Thanks.

This is the way it should be among the Body of Christ. Peace to you brother.

We disagree. But my point remains that it does not need to be proven to be a scandal. Paul didn’t get upset with the people who clearly thought he committed idolatry in the temple.

The difference between the food and using the pagan temple as a teaching moment is that of worship. Paul did not worship at the pagan temple even if he used it as a way to bridge a gap with potential converts. In this case, the appearance that idols were used (the Vatican actually admits they are not Marian but represent fertility and the earth) in a worship ceremony and placed in a church for worship is the scandal.

As an artist, I actually appreciate indigenous art and culture. But I think it’s clear these statues at least blur the line between Christianity and the local deity pantheon which also incorporated Jesus and Mary as a subset of their deities. Again, to argue who is right or wrong instead of repairing the effects of this scandal is counterproductive. It will only drive a wedge among Christians.

Do both things! I’m trying to do my part to repair the scandal (90% caused by reactionaries and hostile Catholic media) and I and others are also calling for a proper examination to determine the exact nature of the thing that has so many up in arms or confused.

You say the second thing is “moot” and “counterproductive”. I say it is absolutely central and crucial and the bottom line. I am primarily concerned with objective fact and secondarily with subjective impression and appearances and all the rest; you (apparently exclusively) with subjectivism.

I am surprised that you think the objective aspect is utterly irrelevant. If in fact idolatry was taking place under the auspices of the pope and the Vatican; literally sanctioned by them, this would be ultra-scandalous and would far surpass any of the myriad (false) accusations against the pope these past six years.

That’s why such a big fuss was made about it by all the usual suspect reactionaries. They were convinced; thought this was their long hoped-for and prayed-for knockout punch of the wicked “liberal” pope, but they couldn’t prove it, and now we are mostly reduced to mere subjective impressions. I take that (from them) as a virtual concession that they had no case from the start and have now made almost total fools of themselves.

Msgr. Charles Pope wrote about it on 10-27-19:

How is this not analogous to the “abomination or desolation” that foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 24:15)? To any average person this has idolatry written all over it. Simply saying there is no idolatrous “intention” does not remove what the eye can plainly see. I would be shocked even to see the faithful prostrating before statues of the saints. Kneeling can indicate mere prayer, but prostration — which photos of the event seem to clearly depict — indicate full worship of adoration.

Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, not nearly as “sure” as Msgr. Pope and Fr. Pacwa and Cardinal Mueller, observed the same events (10-22-19), and did not think it was so obviously idolatry. While railing against how it was handled and explained (and I agree again), he still held that:

a deliberate ambiguity was promoted by those who were responsible for the information, allowing the impression to fester that something akin to idol worship was going on in the heart of Rome. I don’t actually think that was the case. But it should not have been hard to say that clearly, directly and unambiguously. [my bolded italics]

Objective facts are always good, but ask yourself what is to be gained over these statues? Defend the objective facts of Christianity and faith. These are worth not budging upon even as we turn the other cheek for those who revile us.

But these statues whom are not even Holy relics, but from some street vendor picked presumably as a whim to represent the region are only divisive. What is the rule Jesus told us to test things? If the statues are causing such discord then perhaps they are diabolical or at least the effects of them are so. Had they been commissioned works of local art to represent Mary, this entire thing would not be an issue.

St. Paul clearly was in his rights to eat the food to the dead idols. Objectively they were not real gods and therefore had no real power over the true disciple of God. However, even Paul recognized that the subjective perception he made to Christians actually caused them great distress. His solution was not to win an argument that he clearly was correct about, but to avoid scandal. Scandal is not objective but subjective.

I agree with much of your premise about the statues, but my concern as a member of the Body of Christ is to help each person get to heaven. We are in this journey together in the Holy Spirit. If I am causing you anxiety over this, please forgive me. I’ve said my piece. May God love you and keep you.

The quote from your link demonstrates and supports my point. The scandal is not based upon objective but subjective interpretation because the provenance of the statues, the meaning and representation Of them are unclear. Even the Vatican admits the statues are symbolic of fertility and the earth, not necessarily of Mary.

Perhaps the reactionaries on the other side went to far in outrage. But instead of reconciling and just dismissing the statues and perhaps commissioning new statues of Mary by local artists, this has become a big argument over statues? I mean, that alone tells me there is something wrong here.

So you may be correct. You may be right and just. But what is to be won or gained over lifeless empty statues? Certainly not the peace of those souls disturbed and distressed by them.

Just think about what I’ve said. I respect you and am not attempting to win an argument. My disposition is too mild for such things.

Thanks for your input. Meanwhile, I just discovered that Bp. Athanasius Schneider: huge critic of the pope and this “pachamama” fiasco, has deliberately dissed Vatican II.  This is how it goes. It ain’t just about Pope Francis. It’s about an entire quasi-schismatic agenda.

I was just asked in person by a friend at a group discussion at my house, two nights ago, if I thought Cdl. Burke and Bp. Schneider were reactionaries. I said I would have to see what they thought about Vatican II and the Pauline Mass. I already know they are habitual pope-bashers. And so, lo and behold, here I am two days later and discover this article.

Dr. Robert Fastiggi, a major Catholic scholar and professor of systematic theology, was also at my house two nights ago. He’s been a good friend of mine for well over ten years. I asked him whether some of what is going on now verges on a denial of the indefectibility of the Church and he agreed and thought it was “extremely dangerous” territory.

So now we have a guy like Bp. Schneider saying that an ecumenical council was dead wrong, and that a pope expressly sanctioned rank idolatry at the Vatican. That is awful close to a denial of indefectibility, if not an outright assertion of defectibility, which is rank heresy. If it’s not technically or canonically so (I would guess not yet), the “spirit” and mindset is certainly there. Thus, what we have is more like rank heresy and near-schism, rather than rank idolatry.

Hmmm, so again, take away the excuse for the complaint and the detractors are rendered toothless. So fighting on this battlefield for statues only creates an atmosphere that allows an excuse for further discord. But what do I know? I only keep my eyes on Jesus Christ. Each day I try to be less of the worldly things, the material things, and more of the spiritual. This is why the statues objectively are of no importance to me. But what can be lost by clinging to them is perhaps very great.

Take away the atrocious, agenda-driven, ultra-biased, anti-Francis Catholic media and it still could have been avoided. If the concern is to not scandalize the faithful, they bear at least equal (but I say much more) blame.

They want the people to be scandalized because that is their agenda: drive Pope Francis out or pillory him so much that he will be widely hated and despised. It’s the equivalent phenomenon to the ridiculous Democrat kangaroo court impeachment proceedings. The Democrats couldn’t care less about the people, the country, passing legislation, the glowing economy, etc. All they want is vengeance for 2016.

Likewise, many Catholic journalists (the ones hostile to the pope) don’t give a fig about how many people are scandalized by what they choose to make front page news for weeks and weeks. All that matters is (for the worst of them) the reactionary agenda, and (for the less extreme ones) an anti-Francis narrative. And all over a thing that has not been proven at all to be idolatry.

Sigh. St. Paul also wasn’t idolatry. His was the wiser course of action to deflate his detractors in my humble opinion.


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Photo credit: Chris Dlugosz, “Hysterical” (4-13-08) [Flickr / CC BY 2.0 license]


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