“Pachamama” Redux (vs. Peter Kwasniewski & Janet Smith)

“Pachamama” Redux (vs. Peter Kwasniewski & Janet Smith) December 17, 2019

These exchanges took place in a thread on Dr. Janet Smith‘s public Facebook page. She is a renowned moral theologian (especially notable for her defense of Humanae Vitae), who is now in the anti-Francis camp and steadily moving to the “right” on the ecclesiological spectrum.  Peter Kwasniewski is a reactionary who is moving so rapidly right that he may end up in SSPX or as a sedevacantist. He wouldn’t be the first to do so, if so. It’s a sad trajectory to observe. Janet’s words will be in blue; Peter’s in green.


Dave Armstrong maintains that since Saint JPII spoke of Pachamama, and because Church documents say beautiful things about the earth as our mother, that we should not be disturbed by events at the Amazon Synod regarding the so-called Pachamama. I don’t find his argumentation persuasive. JPII may have had little idea who Pachamama is and references to “mother earth” should in no way be conflated with Pachamama. I just can’t imagine JPII allowing the Vatican Garden ceremonies or the presentation and placement of a potted plant on the altar. In such matters, I believe we need to err on the side of caution.

Actually I made little or no argument (strictly speaking) at all in this particular article of mine. What little argument there was, resided in the title: “Pope St. John Paul II Respectfully Referred to Pachamama.”

Can you imagine Taylor Marshall doing that, or Peter Kwasniewski, or yourself? And that is the only point that I made (if one really wants to understand what I was trying to accomplish).

I did find some Bible passages, too, that I thought had perhaps some relation to the notion of “mother Earth”: which has a Christian application and not only a pagan one, as you acknowledge (“Church documents say beautiful things about the earth as our mother”).

Anyone who has followed my commentary on the “Pachamama” fiasco would know that I have contended that it has never been established that idolatry took place. The very first thing that needed to be done (i.e., by those who so vehemently disagree) has never been done, nor (to my knowledge) has this basic “investigatory obligation” even been attempted.

Instead we have proclamations from folks who just “know” that idolatry took place (just like John Calvin “knew” that blasphemous idolatry took place at every Catholic Mass and that statues of Mary and even Christ Himself were “idols” to be smashed or stolen), as if they are mind readers or gnostics with esoteric knowledge of what goes on in other hearts and minds.


Janet, have you seen the argument I give here [he links to his article]? I show that it’s idolatry [referring to the tree-planting ceremony at the Vatican] as defined by the Catechism, and that even if there was no “intention,” the external actions stand condemned for their appearance of evil. Armstrong cannot respond to these arguments and so he leaves them unaddressed.

I hate to inform you of this, but Armstrong never saw said article because Armstrong doesn’t read reactionary junk sites like One Peter Five. I’ll take a look out of curiosity, if nothing else.

I find this a very revealing statement on your part. It’s easier to maintain a desperate worldview when you live in a bunker. I like to read sites such as yours, PrayTell, Crux, La Croix, and other purveyors of confusion, so that I can see what the other guy is thinking (or not thinking).

I inevitably come across the junk in the course of my apologetics (as in this present instance). It’s not “don’t read” as in an absolute statement, but in the sense of “not regular reading, because one has standards and one has only so much patience.” I don’t read flat earth folks or geocentrists or other conspiracy theorists, either.

In this instance, I was directly responding to your silly charge: “Armstrong cannot respond to these arguments and so he leaves them unaddressed.”

And so I shot that down by pointing out the simple fact that I never saw your article (and humorously, you ask Janet if she had seen it). Now, if you had sent it to me and asked my opinion on it, that would have been very different, wouldn’t it? Instead, I get foolishly accused of being unable to respond to an article that I had never seen. Nice bit of chest-puffing triumphalism there.

Moreover, it’s hardly the case that I can live in a bunker when I have defended this pope now literally more than 150 times, and have also a collection of articles defending the pope, numbering almost 400 (so, for example, I read Taylor Marshall’s and Phil Lawler’s anti-Francis books cover-to-cover, while Taylor Marshall blocked me from his Twitter page as soon as he knew I was critical, and Amazon literally censored my review of his book which had previously been the “top critical review” for over two weeks).

It would be impossible to be in a bunker, with no interaction with anti-Francis views, in light of these facts. But keep up the fantasies. Whatever floats your boat.


I would have a huge problem if it were actually proven beyond any reasonable doubt that conscious, deliberate idolatry of false gods occurred in that [tree-planting] ceremony. I would be as big of a critic of it as anyone, including Janet and Peter Kwasniewski.

A thing is either proven with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt or it is not. Feeling that a thing is insufficiently proven is not at all the same as a positive assertion or defense of a supposed act that was idolatrous. It would be like the following scenario:

1. It is believed that x killed y.

2. There is enough evidence to bring x to trial [determined by a grand jury], charged with possible murder of y.

3. It is the task of the jury in the trial of x to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he killed y; failing that, to acquit or declare “not guilty.”

4. Dave Armstrong, as a member of that jury, thinks there is a reasonable doubt that x killed y, and so he cannot commit to a “guilty” vote.

5. Therefore, my critics who find it difficult to take me “seriously”, conclude that I endorse the notion of the killing of y by x.

This is how ridiculous the reasoning here is. Just apply the analogy to the tree-planting ceremony. I am saying that the evidence to establish idolatry is insufficient. If in the future I am persuaded that it is sufficient and compelling, then I shall argue as vociferously against what happened as anyone else, since, as an apologist I have literally opposed idolatry and false religious beliefs and practices these past 38 years.

Samuel above [another participant in the thread] freely admits that the basic fact has “never been established” and so he is restricted to arguments about appearances, which is a completely separate issue (one I could even quite conceivably agree with or be persuaded to agree with).


[to Peter Kwasniewski]: I asked Dr. Pedro Gabriel about a portion of your article. This was his reply:

The divinity present in the Amazonian ground can be God. There is nothing in that statement saying that the divinity is Pachamama. All of the rest stems from the gratuitous assertion that the people involved in the event paid worship of latria to the statue (cf. my article “It was clearly idolatry!”) and the gratuitous assertions that the statue did not represent Our Lady (See my other articles).

Also, why does Peter take Mrs. Ednamar’s word for it when she mentions the “divinity present on the Amazon grounds”, but not when the same Ednamar calls the statue “Our Lady of the Amazon”?


And now we already see that at least some folks on this thread will move from pope-bashing to Dave-bashing. I will not and would not allow personal insult-type Janet Smith-bashing on my Facebook page or my blog. If some such comment slips by and I miss it, please let me know and I’ll delete and/or block the person if it is extreme enough.

Dave, I think you are pretty darn good at hurling insults yourself. If I deleted all intemperate and insulting posts it would not be to your advantage. If things become seriously uncivil, I will delete posts. You are a candidate.

Feel free. If you delete what I have posted in this thread, I’ll never visit again. It seems to me that you would want to encourage an actual two-sided discussion. I was the subject of the post. I showed up. That’s what those who are seeking to be serious thinkers do: engage opposing viewpoints. I argue vigorously. It’s not the same as personal insult. If someone says something untrue about me, I defend myself. That is not an “insult” either.

We don’t seem to agree on what insulting language is. But your interactions with many here I take as being insulting. You want me to delete what others say. If I start deleting insults, you will be deleted and you can decide whether or not you want to come back.

I have already, since your opinion is clear, whether you delete or not. There is no discussion here, save a few exceptions. See ya. Please don’t tag me again in your posts. I’m only interested in dialogue, not what typically goes on here (echo chamber back-slapping). May God abundantly bless you with all good things, and I wish you and yours a blessed Advent and Christmas.


Let me ask you some questions for I truly am having a hard time understanding the reasons for your publishing the article I posted. Do you think the ceremonies using what some think are artifacts representative of the idol Pachamama, are harmless? Or do you think we should simply trust that they are not because they were allowed by Pope Francis?

These statues did not represent “Pachamama” in the first place. The woman in the ceremony who talked about them described them as “our Lady of the Amazon.” That’s her own report. I suppose you can simply say (in retort) she was lying through her teeth . . . These were Catholics in the ceremony: not some pagan savages from the jungle.

I assume the ceremonies are “harmless” and “kosher” unless I am given compelling reason to believe otherwise (i.e., shown that gross idolatry was indeed taking place). I think Dr. Gabriel has shown again and again (in about six articles now) that this was not the case.

Precisely what do you think should be our response to the appearances of those artifacts in religious ceremonies?

I would say that your response should be (given your alarm and concern) exactly what I have said from the beginning: prove that this ceremony was undertaken with deliberately blasphemous and idolatrous intentions. The pope expressly denied the latter. But of course today it’s fashionable to doubt what he says. I am in the habit of accepting what popes say, short of absolutely compelling reason not to.

I disagree with his take on climate change, but of course that isn’t theology, and I have every prerogative as a Catholic to do so. I likely disagree on economics as well, being a distributist.


I find the articles authored by Pedro Gabriel very hard to read since they being [begin?] not with evidence about the nature of the Pachamama or artifacts but are character assassinations of those trying to figure it out or who think they are idols. Not a contribution to the conversation.

I see. Is there anyone who defends the pope whom you think is not engaging in “insults” and “character assassination”?

That is a strange question. I was not making a sweeping statement. I was explaining my response to an article you posted. Keep the conversation on track, please.

I’ll ask again: “Is there anyone who defends the pope whom you think is not engaging in “insults” and “character assassination”? I sincerely would like to know who it is that you think is worthy to be read: of those who defend this pope. If you think there is no such person, just say so.

Samuel A Schmitt: There are some – Drs. Robert Fastiggi and Rocco Buttiglione come to mind – but I find their arguments weak. I’m no theologian but even I can see the holes in what they say. Am I missing something? [comment “liked” by Janet Smith]

Ask as many times as you like. I was responding to an article you posted. Offer better stuff. There is no question that he [Dr. Pedro Gabriel] leads with insults so don’t suggest that I think all those who think Pachamama is not an idol lead with insults. I will not respond to unjust charges. And soon I will not respond at all. You shift the conversation with irrelevant questions and claims. I would think your best response would be to post someone who defends the pope in this matter who does not engage in insults.

Dr. Fastiggi absolutely loves my work defending this pope and has said so many times (we’re good friends), but if Janet Smith wants to believe that I am “insulting” and he is not, that’s fine. She calls “insult” what I call simply “vigorous argument” and (when necessary) “self-defense against public false portrayals and inaccuracies”.

You can’t please everyone (as Rick Nelson sang).

The substance of what Dr. Fastiggi is arguing regarding Pope Francis and what I have argued is identical, as far as I can tell. I don’t recall disagreeing with him about anything having to do with this pope.

This is my last response here (now and ever). If anyone wonders why I don’t respond anymore, that’s why. Blessings upon all during this holy Advent Season . . .


[I was asked a question about this by someone else] One can distinguish between thinking it would be prudent, wise “PR”, good pastoring, and pragmatically advantageous to answer the dubia and to clarify misunderstandings and existing confusion (my position), and objection to the demand that the pope must do so (which is, I think the position of the other paper you reference). I would disagree with casting aspersions on motives of those who want mere clarification.

My friend and seminary colleague of Janet’s, Robert Fastiggi, has argued that the pope has already in effect answered the dubia in Amoris Laetitia alone.


Anyone who has to go to such lengths to prove that what looks like idolatry isn’t is waging a losing battle. Which brings me to that more general point, acknowledged by every single moral theologian of the past 2,000 years, namely, shouldn’t we avoid scandalous appearances? Dontchathink?

Yes, of course. And it is also true that the less educated and the less inquisitive the Catholic populace is, regarding learning about something that is on the surface “scandalous” the more likely they will draw the negative conclusion of what they guessed in the first place. To put it bluntly, the dumber they are, the more likely they will be wrongheadedly scandalized. They can become the biblical “weak brother” if they make no effort to learn about the things in question.

But if people take the effort to fully investigate a controversial event, by reading the best articles on both sides (Dr. Pedro Gabriel offering the best for the view that this was not idolatry), then this is a much better state of affairs.

But now the latest mantra about pope-defenders like Dr. Gabriel and myself (doing things that all apologists used to do, as recently as seven years ago) is something like, “well, if you have to work so hard to explain this, that, and the other, there must really really be something wrong!”

That doesn’t follow at all, logically, and I won’t waste time explaining why it doesn’t. There are many things in the faith that are a bit (or quite a bit) complicated and require considerable effort to explain and provide rationales for (which is what we apologists do).

The trick and key in anti-Francis polemics is to quickly dismiss anyone who thinks differently, and to resolve not to read their stuff, or in the rare case that it is read, to dismiss it as special pleading or implausible or borne from nefarious motives, or the result of “papolatry” or “ultramontanism.”

Anything but actually give it a fair reading and grapple with it. Go into your echo chambers and pat each other on the back. Insult and dismiss any “dissenter” who dares enter the chamber. Groupthink. Avoid dialogue at any cost. Employ caricature and straw men in order to avoid such dreadful dialogue.

And so you offer a variant of these tactics: “Anyone who has to go to such lengths to prove that what looks like idolatry isn’t is waging a losing battle. ” You show no visible inclination of wanting to interact with any differing view. You’d rather mock and dismiss them so you don’t have to in the first place. I’ve already offered answers to some of your questions asked, but you have shown no interest in actually talking about it.

It should not be necessary for ordinary Catholics to have to study apologists in order to find out that, in fact, their pope and other high-ranking clergy are not guilty of what looks like sacrilege and idolatry. This is the fatal weakness of your entire defense of post-conciliar continuity: it is not something at all evident, but requires endless argumentation. But FB will hardly be the place in which we resolve this longstanding disagreement.

[I replied to this statement on my Facebook page only] Apologetics has always been necessary and always will be. So, for example, Janet Smith herself has a big (and well-deserved) reputation as a defender of Humanae Vitae. The reasoning in that document is subtle (especially for this secular age). Very few understand it. So folks like her and apologists like me have to explain and defend why contraception is wrong.

To say that nothing needs to be explained is absolutely ridiculous. During Vatican I in 1870 the big debate was papal infallibility: would it be defined de fide? Lots of people didn’t understand it, including Dollinger and his schismatic group, the Old Catholics, who left the Church.

Cardinal Newman, on the other hand, took great pains to explain papal infallibility, which he had accepted many years since (though he was an inopportunist about the definition before it happened: which has been endlessly lied about as well). If people like him weren’t around to expound truth and explain doctrinal development, likely many more would have left the Church.


I didn’t become a Catholic only to end up being a quasi-Protestant. I had more respect for the pope as a Protestant than these reactionaries have today. Would that they would just shut up and keep their endless bellyaching “concerns” to themselves.


I replied to a completely different critic (words in purple) who blasted me in a recent post. Due to the similarity of subject matter, I’ll include it here:

It appears that Armstrong, also, thinks bowing down to naked images which Francis called “pachamama” is perfectly okay.

Armstrong doesn’t think that is what happened in that tree-planting ceremony. The Catholics in the ceremony had their hands raised upward in prayer to God, momentarily made a deep bow, and then resumed the upward prayer posture. The statues were not “Pachamama” (which is not an Amazonian religious belief), but according to the woman who presided over the ceremony, “our Lady of the Amazon” (thus not an idol). The Vatican clarified that the pope meant “pachamama” only in a generic sense, used by the Italian press.

I dare Armstrong to take a picture of himself bowing down to the naked statue Francis called “pachamama” and post it on his blog since he thinks it’s perfectly okay.

I have no problem with bowing before and showing veneration to any statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But again, it’s questionable that this was what the bowing meant in the ceremony.

Does Pachamama apologist Armstrong have the conviction of his stated Pachamama belief?

I am not a “Pachamama apologist” in the first place. I am one who believes that it is gravely sinful to accuse fellow Catholics of blasphemous idolatry without cause; without any compelling proof that this is what happened, and in light of several factors that prove, I think, that it is not what happened at all.


Related Reading:

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

“Pachamama” Fiasco: Hysterical Reactionaryism, as Usual [11-8-19]

“Pachamama” Confusion: Fault of Vatican or Catholic Media? [11-12-19]

Anti-“Pachamama” Doc: “Usual Suspect” Reactionaries Sign [11-14-19]

Vatican II –> Alleged “Pachamama” Idolatry, Sez Fanatics [11-15-19]

Bishops Viganò & Schneider Reject Authority of Vatican II [11-22-19]

Viganò, Schneider, Pachamama, & VCII (vs. Janet E. Smith) [11-25-19]

Pope St. John Paul II Respectfully Referred to Pachamama (+ Orthodox Catholic References to “Mother Earth” and Similar Biblical Motifs) [12-13-19]

Is “Mother Earth” a Catholic Concept (Church Fathers)? (guest post by Rosemarie Scott) [12-17-19]


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Photo credit: Dr. Janet E. Smith; photo from You Tube talk, “Contraception: Why Not?” (12-29-10).

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