Pachamama Sleeps with the Fishes

So. . . . The greatest headline from yesterday: “Pachamama sleeps with the fishes.” A reference, for those who do not already know the history of the Mafia, or even of “The Godfather” films, to a common practice. In Sicily, when one branch of the mob rubs someone out, they throw his body in the ocean, and send a fish wrapped in newspaper to other mobsters and family members. He, they announce,  is dead, i.e., “sleeps” with the fishes.

At the risk of telling TCT readers what they already know in spades, early Monday morning, two operatives, so far of unknown origin, taped an operation, available as a video here, in which they gathered up at least three of the pagan images present in the Carmelite church in Traspontina, and dumped them in the Tiber River.

Now, let us enter into some necessarily brief moral reflection: In general, a Catholic does not countenance theft or destruction of other people’s property. And following the usual etiquette of postmodern interreligious dialogue, our church also refrains from disrespect towards the beliefs of others. But Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery of Communications said at the press briefing yesterday that this theft – he called it a “stunt” – offended against the “spirit of dialogue” present in the synod.

Perhaps so.

And yet . . . lots of quite even-tempered people write us to say that it was also not exactly in “the spirit of dialogue” either to install indisputably pagan images in churches in the central city of Christianity.  And to conduct pagan rituals in the very gardens of the Vatican.

That meant that Pope Francis thinks:

  • that despite the talk of respect, the images were trivial, whatever they might mean to indigenous peoples, and therefore allowing their rituals in the Vatican was not to be taken very seriously, or;
  • those pagan images were substantive, to be “respected” and “honored.” And the head of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church did not find it a great problem to do so personally, publicly.

At yesterday’s press briefing, an Australian journalist went through a series of what seemed prepared talking points; he asked why people have criticized our pope about so many things – sometimes quite sharply. Why is it, he continued, that, unlike the criticisms directed towards earlier popes, “anyone with a Twitter account” now (sometimes including quite young people with little sense of the Catholic tradition and recent Church history) believes he can criticize the current pontiff?

In terms of the mode of criticism – social media – he had a point. People who have not seriously studied the rich Catholic tradition often think they can just spout off – and not only about Pope Francis.


But an objective observer might well suspect that this was a “question” planted by partisans. Virtually everyone understands that Pope Francis is a legitimately elected pontiff. But even a person legitimately elected may not always understand his own proper role. And in the case of a Roman pontiff, he only has legitimate authority insofar as he serves a tradition that he has not created, and exists only to serve.

So a pope who shows little interest in theology, who even seems to think at times that formal theology is an obstacle to mercy and accompaniment, and – therefore – welcomes what most practicing Catholics will see as flirting, or more than flirting, with pagan gods (and goddesses) contrary to both Old and New Testaments, comes in for a fair degree of criticism.

Is there any wonder why?

There was also discussion in yesterday’s press briefing about the damage that mining and other “extractive” industries do to the Amazonian environment. So much so that one questioner asked whether the Church should not take advantage of a kind of current  “teaching moment,” by abandoning gold vessels for Masses, and refusing to perform weddings where couples exchange gold rings or “blood” diamonds.

That comment reflects the general atmosphere for debating various questions in Rome these days. Everything seems up for grabs. Strangely, at least from what we can glean from the reports about the small circles where specific proposals are being discussed, there’s not as clear a line on married priests for the Amazon, let alone female deacons, as we might have anticipated.

But there’s a generalized radicalism that many of us have not seen since the 1960s. So there are efforts to draw sharp and authoritarian lines about the mining of gold and diamonds, and other questions of environmental politics. Meanwhile, there are unlimited, undefined indulgences of the gods and the goddesses of the peoples, as if environmental goals and interreligious dialogue are more truly matters of the Gospel than the transmission of divine revelation.

Pachamama sleeps with the fishes, and would that much else slept with her. One may be – as the present writer considers himself to be – an environmentalist and sympathetic to the plight of indigenous peoples around the world, not only in the Amazon. And may still think that this Amazon Synod has been fundamentally misconceived and now shamefully mishandled.


*(Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/Caters News Agency)