Amazon Synod: Of Gnats and Camels

Amazon Synod: Of Gnats and Camels October 30, 2019

I closed yesterday by noting of the people having hysterics over Our Lady of the Amazon that just an ounce of charity would have prevented this whole ridiculous Panic du Jour. A reader replies:

You make a lot of good points. But why can’t you (among others) admit that the problem here is not all because of wackos with tinfoil hats. If the Synod was to help appreciate the Amazon culture, then why didn’t the Holy See Press Office have a prepared explanation of the image?

I will be happy to admit that. It was part of what I was leading up to with yesterday’s post. The Vatican’s “messaging” (as the kids call it these days) was spectacularly inept. Liz Dodd does the autopsy here:

The Vatican hasn’t helped. One of the synod’s organisers, Fr Giacomo Costa, told a press conference that the statue definitely doesn’t represent the Virgin Mary. Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican communications dicastery, said only that it “represents life”. An Amazon bishop told our Rome Correspondent Christopher Lamb it is an image of life. “Everything that is human is Christian,” he said. Whatever it represents, what matters, I think, is whether God minds. A fear that he does was, perhaps, at the root of the theft.

Ya think?

Again, all this could have been avoided had these clerics simply listened to the person who presented the statue to the Pope. She clearly called it Our Lady of the Amazon.

John Allen, Jr. makes the same point:

It’s probably telling that almost no one in the Western media made much of an effort to go ask the indigenous peoples themselves what the image represents.

This drives home one of the ironies of the Church’s current struggles: namely, that for all the Holy Father’s warnings about clericalism, what is apparent is that these clerics never thought to ask the people who made the image what they thought it meant. Indeed, contrary to the hysterics of the Reactionaries that they were a bunch of pagan “savages” trying to wreck the Church, it appears their instincts were much more old school Catholic than the Western interpreters, both sympathetic and hostile, who spoke for them. Though it can represent all the stuff the interpreters said, what the presenters called it was Our Lady of the Amazon.

Similarly, the Reactionaries responded almost exclusively, not to what the actual indigenous people were saying, but to what “Vatican officials” or (allegedly) “Vatican spokesmen” said. This says volumes. For both sides in the dumb dispute, the childish noble savage cannot speak for herself. She needs adults to step in and explain what she really means. And since the real goal was, of course, to gain ammo against Francis in a proxy war where the indigenous people were simply tools for destroying him, Reactionary reading of everything was carefully selected to achieve the most damning effect. Consequently, the people who are perpetually pretending to be “confused” by Francis suddenly found him crystal clear when they thought they had the confession of guilt they sought. In his apology to the indigenous participants in the synod, Francis referred to the image as the Pachamama.

“Ah HA!,” cried the Reactionaries. “You have heard the blasphemy! What further need have we of witnesses? Crucify!”

Except, of course, for this:

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope used the word as a means to identify the statues because that is the way they have become known in the Italian media and not as a reference to the goddess.

Suddenly, “Vatican spokesmen” were worthless as sources of information and the Holy Father was very clearly declaring the image an idol while Bruni was a liar. Of course, the Holy Father was also apologizing to his guests for the theft and would, on Sunday, restore the image to the sanctuary for public veneration. What can it all mean?

It means (for people not feverishly hungry to damn the pope as an idolator) that just as he can refer to the Feast of the Resurrection as “Easter” in English without worshipping Eostre and his enemies can call today “Wednesday” without worshipping Woden, so he can speak colloquially about something by the name most people around the world now know it by without believing for one second in a fertility deity.

And this is, of course, the great ironic folly of the Reactionary vigilantes and their dumb stunt. Had they not created this media spectacle, nobody but the participants in the Synod would have ever heard of the statue. It would have been one of countless sacred objects presented to the Holy Father for blessing by local cults with local devotions. Now, it will forever be popularly known as the Pachamama/Our Lady of the Amazon just as Our Lady of Czestochowa is also known as the Black Madonna. And the lore that will accrue around her will forever include as a proud boast her “baptism” in the Tiber, recovery, and blessing by the Holy Father as “proof” that God accepts her just as the Black Madonna’s insults at the hands of Protestant swords only enhance her dignity. Future generations will tell how the enemies of Our Lady meant evil, but God turned it to good.

Good job, guys.

Still and all, the vigilantism of the Reactionaries who appointed themselves to insult both Our Lady and to spit in the faces of their brother and sister Catholics is, in the end, a sideshow. For the worst part of the whole thing is that it was a massive act of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

For in the real world, the backdrop to these extensions of common courtesy to the culture of these people is not idolatry or crazy conspiracies like (I am not making this up) “Francis is preparing to offer children as human sacrifices to Pachamama in the name of climate change”.

It is centuries of European colonialism in which the Church sometimes (not always) sided with the oppressors against the oppressed.

The oppressed still bear the scars of imperialism and even genocide at the hands of Europeans–including Catholic Europeans (again, watch The Mission to get a sense of the complexity, both noble and culpable, of the Catholic presence in the New World).  These people would like, at long last, to be treated as something other than pawns in an internecine quarrel between white people. And, indeed, these people *still* face oppression and death from people who claim the name of Catholic while shooting them and burning them out of their land.

The thing is, the Church’s Magisterium–and especially this Pope–gets that (however clumsily Peter implements his preferential option for the poor).  And so does the Synod:

“However, here’s what every bishop I’ve ever spoken to who’s taken part in a synod would say, and I mean unanimously: The experience helped them think in a more global way about the vicissitudes of the Church.

The basic demographic reality of the Catholic Church in the 21st century is this: Of the 1.3 billion baptized Catholics in the world today, two-thirds of them live outside the West, a share which will rise to three-quarters by mid-century. The great cities of Europe as the cradle of Christendom is now an historical anachronism; one could much more cogently argue that Manila, or São Paulo, or Kinshasa, is the center of global Catholicism today.

Indeed, the greatest Catholic story of the 20th century wasn’t Pius XII, or Vatican II, or John Paul II, as important as those chapters of history undeniably were. It was the North/South shift, meaning the transition from Catholicism as a largely white, first world faith, as it had been at the time of the Council of Trent and as it still was in 1900, to a staggeringly global community with its center south of the equator.”


“All this is especially important for Americans, I might add, since the Achilles heel of American culture is the tendency to assume that our experiences are the world’s experiences, our priorities the world’s priorities, and that our no-brainer solutions to problems ought to apply equally to everyone, everywhere. The realization that none of this is so, however obvious it may seem at the peripheries, is often akin to the experience of Saul on the road to Damascus for people who hail from the center.

Again I say, if you want to understand this Pope, all you need do is memorize these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. (Luke 4:18)

That is literally the entire pontificate of Francis in a nutshell.  It is everything about his mission and motivation.  And it is light years from the goal of Reactionaries, who see themselves, not going into the highways and byways to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, but as trying to retake Fortress Katolicus from the damn libruls who have stolen it from them and installed a heretical antipope when they and they alone are the only real and faithful Catholics.

It is really vital to get this.  It’s not that Reactionaries want the Church to evangelize the right way.  It’s that they hate evangelism.  Hate it.  The only form of evangelism they can bear is cultural conquest, pure and simple.  And that’s not new. They accused JPII of paganism for receiving an aarti greeting from a Catholic women. They accused him of it again for the Assisi meeting. They accused Benedict XVI of consorting with “witch doctors” for receiving an aboriginal greeting in Australia.

The consistent message to everybody in the world from Reactionaries is “Your culture is worthless and pagan. Conversion means adopting my culture. Period.”

And that culture is so rarefied that even most Westerners don’t make the cut.  Not only are the browns and the poor in the developing world pagan, but so are most of the whites in the developed world, including (especially) fellow Catholics whose aesthetics (like mine) are indifferent to Reactionary piety (I can literally take it or leave it.  I’m fine with it, but I don’t care about it and lose no sleep over it). Still more hated are those whose aesthetics actually find felt banners and Marty Haugen nourishing (again, something to which I am indifferent). Such people within the Church, far more than the remote natives of the Amazon, are Public Enemy #1 for the Reactionary crowd and receive a torrent of naked contempt from the Righteous on “Susan from the Parish Council” and related sneer sites.  Because Trad aesthetics and a specific cultural form is co-terminous with “orthodoxy” for Reactionaries. No other expressions of the Faith are permitted.

With the aesthetic issue goes another thing:  the wrankling awareness that they are living lives of ease and comfort and not really suffering for the Faith, as are all white American conservatives, especially males.  And that galls them, so they are driven to sell themselves a martyrdom narrative in which they play the heroes of the Plucky Rebel Alliance against the Evil Empire compounded of Bergoglio, libs, socialists, abortion-lovers, pagans, and tree huggers.  They constantly talk about themselves as the Real Victims. Not for nothing did one of the doyennes of the Reactionary movement, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis (who brought Steve Bannon and Cardinal Mueller together) declare that there are “only two people in the world today making sense: Donald Trump & Cardinal Mueller” and “Cardinal Müeller today is the Donald Trump of the Catholic Church.” Likewise, not for nothing did she foretell doom and religious persecution if Trump is not re-elected.

Read the account of her remarks here:

Particularly chilling is this:

Cardinal Müeller was here last year and he liked the new air that we breathe, because you can breathe the new air since Donald Trump is president of this country. … Also you can smell this new air in Europe.”

The fusion of neotraditionalism and white ethnonationalism could not be clearer. And it is precisely this that turns a blind eye, not only to the pastoral needs of Amazonian Catholics for the sacraments (reflect on the fact that the attendees at the synod had more access to the sacraments during the synod than they have for years at a time at home), but to the fact that the very lives and homes of these people are in danger. They are being shot and burned out of their land by the Bolsonaro regime. But all the Reactionaries care about is their panic du jour about and aesthetic differences. The Reactionaries fancy themselves persecuted by “Bergoglio” and foresee persecution for themselves if Trump loses. But in fact, it is they who are the persecutors, assisting those who are making literal war on the least of these in the Amazon for the sake of mammon. As they strain at the gnat of a Marian statue not to their taste, they swallow the camel of murder and theft.

This is why the Holy Father said of them:

“Because they lack the courage to take up earthly affairs, they believe they are taking up God’s. Because they are afraid to be part of humanity, they think they are part of God. Because they love no one, they delude themselves into thinking they love God.” – Charles Peguy

May God our Father continue to guide and guard Peter in the person of our Holy Father Francis as he tries, with all disciples of Jesus Christ and all people of good will, to serve the needs, both temporal and spiritual, of the children of God in the Amazon basin. And may Our Lady of the Amazon pray for them that they can know, love, and serve Jesus Christ–in whom they believe–more and more every day. May she also obtain deliverance from evil for the people who have treated her and her sons and daughters in the Amazon so shabbily. May their sin not be held against them.

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