Whether the Vatican accepts it or not, the “Amazon rite” affair that took place in the Vatican Gardens on October 4 in the presence of Pope Francis, and that of the Pachamama “statuettes” that followed, are far from closed. They require at least some clarification and a mea culpa.
Worship According to Catholic Theology
Worship (or cult) is a veneration manifested towards a being because of his or her own excellence or because of his connection with a being worthy of honor, for example an image that represents him. In the first case—that of a person’s own excellence—it is a question of what is called absolute worship; in the second, of relative worship.
St. Thomas recalls that “honor or reverence is due to a rational creature only” (Summa Theologica III:Q.25,a.4). It encompasses under this name the person in general, and not only his human nature. And he adds this second principle that there can be no honor due to insensitive creatures or to objects, except inasmuch as it represents a rational nature. It is never a question of worship rendered to nonhuman sentient natures—plants or animals—to carefully avoid any danger of idolatry.
Thus only one person can receive absolute worship. This worship is divided into two types. The adoration of latria is reserved for God alone. Indeed, only God can be adored. The worship of veneration or dulia is applied to those who are filled with the divine glory in Heaven, the angels and the saints who contemplate the face of God. The Most Holy Virgin Mary, queen of the angels and all the saints, receives this worship in its fullness, which is given the name hyperdulia.
Relative worship is given to some objects in so far as they have had a connection with the person who receives absolute worship, or some images when they represent Him. Thus, the relics of the True Cross receive the adoration of latria, which applies to the very person of Jesus Christ; it is the same with images representing Christ. The remains of the saints, called relics, receive the veneration of dulia, as do the images that represent them.
Let us note that the marks of honor rendered to the members of the clergy in the liturgical ceremonies of the Church—inclination, genuflection, incensing—are a relative worship of Christ Who is always the One Who performs the liturgy as the only High Priest of the New Testament, and Who the clergy represents.
Finally, worship, liturgical or not, is manifested by gestures, attitudes, postures, prayers, which are intended to manifest the inner sentiment: adoration, submission, giving honor, all of which constitute the main part of worship.
What is Pachamama?
The Amerindian peoples of the Andes Mountains, especially the Aymara and the Quechua, have been immersed for thousands of years in both animist and polytheistic beliefs dating back at least to the 12th Century BC. Two deities dominate the Andean cosmogony: Viracocha, a type of creator, and Inti, the sun. There has also been added another very important deity, the Pachamama.
This term comes from Pacha or space-time, two notions that are united in Andean cosmology, and Mama, the mother. The Pachamama thus represents Mother Earth, not only the soil or the earth from a geological point of view, but the earth mother and nature as a whole. She is the protectress of the mountains, wildlife, and travelers. To obtain her protection, specific offerings must be made to her during worship: coca leaves, shisha (corn beer), and shells. It is common to sacrifice camelids: alpacas, guanacos, llamas, or vicuñas. This cult remains very much alive today in populations that still live in an agrarian culture.
During the evangelization of the Andean countries, the Amerindian divinities were conflated with certain Christian saints. Thus, the Pachamama took on the features of the Virgin Mary and the sun god became Christ. It is well known that polytheism willingly slides into syncretism. It took all the ardor and patience of the missionaries to ward off this danger, which could not always be eradicated. One needs only to think of the number of centuries it took to root out paganism in Europe.
What the Statuettes Represent
There is no equivocation on this point, and the pope himself confirmed it at the beginning of the 15th General Congregation of the Synod, according to Vaticannews: these statuettes represent the Pachamama. The Pope added that they were in the Transpontina church “without idolatrous intentions.”
Quite frankly, this interpretation is inadequate. Whether the Pope likes it or not, the Pachamama is an idol, what’s more it’s an idol that is current and not “antique,” as the site Zenit tries to relativize it.
Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, tries to explain the difficulty: “We have already repeated several times in this place that these statues represented life, fertility, ‘earth’ mother.” In other words, abstractions and concepts.
This justification does not hold. It is enough to consider the ceremonies performed around these statuettes, in the presence of the pope, to identify religious actions taking place: a true procession to bring these objects into the various places, a prostration on both knees, an installation in the sanctuary, and a prayer vigil. If these are not gestures of worship, what are they?
Moreover, the Church has never venerated, in any way, abstractions such as those portrayed by Mr. Ruffini. And especially not as represented by an image or a statue, naked no less. If a virtue can be represented by an image—what is called an allegory—it is in no way so as to render worship to it. On the contrary, the Bible is full of divine warnings against improper representations, which always risk being a source of idolatry. Thus fertility, under the features of Astarte, is constantly condemned in the Old Testament. As was still the case regarding Diana of Ephesus in the New Testament.
It remains that these ceremonies were objectively idolatrous, whatever the intentions of the participants. Further, they have a marked syncretistic flavor that can only disturb the sense of the faith of the Amazonian peoples who live among the venerators of the goddess Pachamama.
As for Mother Earth, which returns to creation, its adoration is only the most crude form of paganism, condemned in all the pages of Holy Scripture.
All that remains is for the Church’s authorities to make the mea culpa needed for this sin, which attacks the First Commandment in a particularly grave way. This is the most serious sin that can be committed.
And for the true faithful, what remains is to atone for this terrible fault, as we have been invited to do by Fr. Pagliarani, the Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X.