In my previous article of three days ago: “Pachamama” [?] Statues: Marian Veneration or Blasphemous Idolatry?, I took a more or less neutral and wait-and-see stance. I was exploring, and I refused to rush to judgment, which is the knee-jerk reaction of the reactionaries to everything regarding Pope Francis. They give no benefit of doubt, extend virtually no charity (very unlike St. Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 13), and begin from an assumed position of cynical hostility. All of that is quite unCatholic, but that’s another issue.
Now I have adopted a position that the controversy turned out to be the usual tempest-in-a-teapot / much ado about nothing. As far as I can tell, I’m ready to assert that no idolatry took place in this instance at all.
At worst, the Vatican can certainly be criticized for sowing confusion and ineptitude: I agree. Yesterday I wrote: “The situation was handled very badly, even to the point of absurdity and scandal. But that’s still different from the thing (the disputed ceremony) itself. Was it idolatry or not? . . . I have not seen definitive proof (far far from it) and so I assume it was Marian veneration until compelling proof appears to overthrow such an opinion.”
Armin Ebner, a good friend of mine who regularly follows my writings, is from Chile, and he noted yesterday on my Facebook page that the usual depictions of Pachamama looks nothing like the disputed statues, and that the image “is normally depicted as the upper part of a woman forming a hill in a landscape.” He provided three images to illustrate his point (one / two / three).
My decisive turning-point late yesterday came when I discovered an article by Eric Giunta, entitled, “My Last Word on the Fake ‘Vatican Pachamama Idols’ Controversy.” (11-7-19; from his website, Laboravi Sustinens). It’s a tour de force takedown of the prevailing narrative (including “optics”). This is a guy who thinks that “Pope Francis is a bad man, a terrible pope, and a heretic.” So he can’t be accused of being a blind partisan or special pleader (a charge that anyone — like myself — who attempts to even be fair to Pope Francis, let alone defend him, constantly hears).
Yet he doesn’t buy the view that rank idolatry occurred. And he gets into some very in-depth stuff. He has done the necessary work of investigative reporting that the reactionary press and even the “conservative” Catholic press has failed to do (in their constant manifest bias and anti-Francis mentalities: a jaded point of view that has become contemptible).
Previously, he wrote a very helpful piece about the “mother earth” aspect of the controversy, called “No, ‘Mother Earth’ Is Not ‘Pagan’ “ (originally 10-25-19, with updates). Moreover, I ran across another good clarifying article yesterday, too: “A Hermeneutic of Suspicion: Pope Francis’s Critics & the Amazon Statues” (Rita Ferrone, Commonweal, 11-4-19). The other articles I’ve found that were most informative and non-hysterical and objective, are the following:
Pachamama, Celibacy, and the Amazonian Synod (Trent Horn, Catholic Answers, 10-23-19; audio with transcript)
My friend, Catholic author, fellow Patheos blogger, and canon lawyer Pete Vere made some great comments on my Facebook page yesterday, too:
I replied: “I take the position you do now, too, after the second Giunta article. In my opinion, he put it to rest, and it is now merely yet another ‘tempest in a teapot’ / hysterical anti-Francis episode.” I just wrote elsewhere on my Facebook page: “I think Giunta has laid this thing to rest. His article was the Grand Slam in the 7th game of the World Series, to win it.”
I’m away at a conference where I grabbed a quick coffee today with a bishop who is basically his country’s version of Bishop Robert Barron. He embodies St John Paul II’s zeal for evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI’s theology, and Pope Francis’ pastoral heart. In fact, he is known to quote all three of our most recent popes frequently and enthusiastically in his sermons and speeches (He also is familiar with some of your apologetics work). He is very TLM and Eastern Catholic friendly.
I won’t name him because it was a private coffee and I did not seek his permission to record the conversation or report him on record. However, we discussed Pachamama and I was quite heartened by what he shared. Particularly because he was in Rome when the controversy took place.
As I have stated publicly, up until now I referenced and shared your prudent position of reserving judgment until we know exactly what the Pachamama statue represents along with what happened in Rome.
Here were the bishop’s two points:
First, this bishop made it clear that everything to do with the introduction of Pachamama and its subsequent explanation was very badly handled by the Church’s leadership. He stressed that the rollout was confusing to the faithful, and subsequent explanations only added to the confusion. And thus he is very sympathetic to those clergy and laity who mistook Pachamama as a pagan idol. He is also appreciative of Catholic apologists like yourself who took a posture of prudence in response to this controversy. (This bishop is very familiar with the apologetics movement and has gently chided me at times when he felt I was too hard on Catholic apologists).
Second, he stated that Pachamama is clearly a Christian adoption of a Indigenous symbol, which follows the Church’s longstanding practice throughout her history of inculturating herself in different cultures by adopting the culture’s symbols and art forms. As such, he had no problem venerating Pachamama as a portrayal of the Blessed Mother, carrying the Divine Child in her womb, while in a posture of prayer.
This bishop is quite conservative theologically. And thus his explanation was very much welcomed. I am thankful to him for clarifying the confusion while not soft-peddling how this situation was poorly handled by Church leaders like himself. I am also thankful to you for expressing publicly the reservation of judgment that many of us felt while this issue was being sorted out.
I understand your position, which I too held until today’s conversation with this bishop. And since I have not named the bishop due to its private nature, I would maintain your same position in your circumstances, which is of cautiously giving Rome the benefit of the doubt.
[reply to someone else] Part of the issue is that this controversy was ginned up by certain anti-Francis forces within the Catholic media resorting to blatant dishonesty. For example, the following lawyer blogger [Eric Giunta] dislikes Pope Francis immensely and even considers him a heretic. However, he lists several reasons why certain anti-Francis media have been dishonest in their reporting this story.
The following are remarks I made yesterday and today on a friend’s Facebook page, which is set to private (so I can’t cite any replies):
Where is the compelling evidence that anyone was worshiping these statues as God? I still haven’t seen it. And until we do, it’s quite possibly calumny of fellow Catholics. Where is the proof that it is worshiping an idol as God? A woman in the ceremony herself called the statue “Our Lady of the Amazon.” Is that completely irrelevant?
[it was stated that it was a “bad” icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, if that is what is claimed for it] That’s merely an aesthetic argument. Tastes (and views on nudity) differ widely in different cultures. To establish idolatry is far more than an argument about artistic taste. It has to be a deliberate internal intention.
The latter has not been proven — i.e., documented from the practitioners themselves — anywhere that I have seen thus far. It’s simply assumed.
Who decides if it appropriate? The pope blessed it. Is that to be bashed too? He’s some sort of ignoramus as to what is appropriate in Christian imagery and iconography? So we have to choose between the pope and this 26-year old Austrian who threw the statues into the Tiber?
The pope blessed it, and specifically said the ceremony was not idolatrous, and this guy (and many thousands of hysterical Catholics at present) thinks it is rank idol worship? Those two things are indisputable facts, and should be enough to stop all the calumnious talk. His saying that the ceremony was not idolatrous makes it not idolatrous.
That’s a lot more Catholic authority than some 26-year-old zealot, given to theft, and a bunch of reactionaries like One Peter Five, The Remnant, Lifesite News, and Taylor Marshall, who also bash Vatican II, the New Mass, popes since Pius XII (three of them saints), etc.
We have all these people from a distance condemning it utterly based on appearances only and not looking closely enough at the statements that have been made.
[replying to one person] You don’t know what was in the hearts of these people. And you have to (in the nature of the case) in order to charge them with idolatry. You have to hear their self-report.
[to someone else] Your point that the statues were “neither sacred nor pagan” is different from saying they were idols per se, but rather, simply inappropriate to be associated with a Catholic altar. I have no problem with that, as far as it goes. It’s an interesting point, and you may have something there.
But it is distinct and altogether separate from claiming that the ceremony in question was deliberately, in intent, pure pagan idolatry: which has been the droning mantra of the reactionary press and many more people who should know better than to breathlessly follow their take on everything.
I think this point you make is about all that is left of legitimate protest, after the Giunta article above, has elegantly disposed of the usual fact-challenged hysteria.
According to Giunta, the prostrations were but for a brief moment, and actually not to the statues in question. That is a crucial piece of information; yet no one seems to have noticed it.
I used to prostrate on occasion in worship as a Protestant. I’m not aware of an out-and-out prohibition of it in Catholicism, but I don’t know. If it is forbidden, please (someone) show me where it is, according to canon law. I’m too lazy to look it up.
But say that it is, for the sake of argument, and they violated that. How would it be different from the routine violation of canon law that takes place in almost every Roman rite parish every Sunday now: extreme over-use of Eucharistic Ministers of Holy Communion (supposed to be only for very large crowds), or the routine violation of using the orans posture and holding hands during the Our Father?
That goes on year after year (I wrote about both many years ago), yet we are to be all up in arms that these South Americans [presumably, piously] prostrated themselves for a short time? If one thing is wrong and ought to be condemned, so are the other two. We’re no better than the people in the ceremony, and we have no basis to look down our noses at them.
If it was wrong according to canon law, then this should be plainly documented, and they ought to be corrected with love, not despised and detested as supposed idolaters of the worst sort. I’m not saying you are doing that (your position is much more nuanced and subtle); but referring to the general controversy and fuss over it.
See further discussion underneath my Facebook cross-posting of this paper.
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