Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Pagan idols aren’t harmless, and ‘dialogue’ is not an absolute goal

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 23, 2019

The historical accounts of conflicts are usually written by the winners. For obvious reasons, the priests of Baal left no first-hand accounts of their contest with Elijah on Mount Carmel. But if they had done so, I wonder what they would have written.

It was Elijah, remember, who provoked the confrontation. The priests of Baal had no reason to quarrel with Elijah; they were comfortably in control of the situation until the prophet challenged Ahab (“I have not troubled Israel, but you have…because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals”) and demanded a showdown.

If they had known what lay in store for them, of course, the priests of Baal probably would have declined the challenge. They might have said that they could coexist with Elijah; they might have argued that a little bit of Baal-worship posed no threat to Elijah’s faith. They might have reasons that after all, they and the prophet were kindred spirits, both invoking the same supernatural powers.

Isn’t that usually the way with idol-worshippers? They do not ask us to deny our own faith; they only want us to add their false gods to the roster of worship. They ask for only a little bit of our devotion. Just bow down for a second. Just burn a few grains of incense.

But Elijah wouldn’t compromise. He wouldn’t dialogue with the priests of Baal. Like so many other heroes of our tradition— like the Maccabees, like the martyrs of Rome, like St. Boniface— he would not accept any homage to pagan idols.

This week’s controversy over the Pachamama images in Rome forces us to reckon with the absolute prohibition of idolatry: a prohibition that comes not from some hidebound traditionalist theory, but from the "jealous God" of the Decalogue. If the Pachamama images were pagan idols— set up before the altar of a Catholic church— then it was right and just to destroy them.

So the question becomes: What were these images? What purpose did they serve?

Authoritative spokesmen said that the Pachamama was not an image of the Virgin Mary. But then why were these images held in such reverence, given such prominence at the Synod? Why had some people quite literally bowed down before the Pachamama, in a ceremony held in the Vatican gardens? No one in any position of authority has ever said that the Pachamama is an image of a pagan god. But some people certainly treated it as such, and no one in any position of authority denounced them for doing so.

How do you suppose it would look, if dedicated pagans sought to introduce idolatry into the practice of Catholic churches? Would they hold a press conference, announce their plans, and march down the center aisle with a statue of Baal? I doubt it. Far more likely, they would introduce one small symbol of their pagan beliefs— an ambiguous symbol, perhaps; something that could be passed off as a novel presentation of a Christian symbol— and see if anyone objected. And if there were no objections, they might try again, on a more ambitious scale. Sooner or later Catholics would be forced to recognize the danger of these encroachments.

Commenting on the destruction of the Pachamama images, Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the Vatican’s dicastery for Communications, said that the action “seems to me to contradict the spirit of dialogue that should always animate everything.” Everything? Elijah thought otherwise. So did St. Boniface.

Ruffini also dismissed the destruction of the idols (if they were idols) as a “stunt.” But as the capable canon lawyer Ed Peters has observed, with admirable clarity, it was anything but a stunt. “A ‘stunt,’” Peters remarks, “is a gesture that calls attention to a problem but does not itself solve the problem.” If the Pachamama images were pagan idols, then the problem was solved on Tuesday morning.

This conflict could have been avoided, if some responsible Vatican official had provided a plausible explanation for the reverence being shown to the Pachamama images. But the legitimate concerns and complaints and fears of Catholics who love and uphold the Church’s traditions were ignored— as they have been so often during this unsettling pontificate. If the men who destroyed the Pachamama images were confused, Vatican officials are responsible for that confusion. But were they confused? As I have argued at length for many months now, in this pontificate the ambiguity isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Oct. 26, 2019 1:11 AM ET USA

    Great article. There is no confusion. These are pagan idols and should never be present in a Catholic church. The Pope is playing with fire and his very soul. He is also confusing the faithful as well as young. Remember what Christ said about that. The Pope and the apologists for this sorry affair in the name of dialogue should beware of the devil. He is very clever in disguising evil. St Michael please help us.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 24, 2019 8:45 AM ET USA

    This strange attention given to idols of fertility stands in contrast with the nature of sex scandals in the Vatican which have nothing to do with fertility.

  • Posted by: shrink - Oct. 24, 2019 7:08 AM ET USA

    The Pachamama is only the latest iteration of idol worship in the Roman Catholic Church. Many or our churchmen have secretly worshiped at the temple of the idol Phallus. Abp Paglia is its designated chief priest during this current pontificate of Judas, & J. Martin, SJ, is the Captain of the Temple. It was Bernardin & Spellman who erected the temple & staffed it, and G. Baum was its architect. Its catacombs contain many saints and martyrs, including Shanley, Geoghan, McCarrick, Weakland & Ryan.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Oct. 23, 2019 5:49 PM ET USA

    The hemming and hawing, the no-answer answers, and the constant insertion of heresy, done in however direct a way, are the primary definition of the methods used by our current hierarchy. Include also the attacks on any who doubt the wisdom of their actions, using an army of sycophants and pitiful pawns who still desperately rebel, contrary to all evidence, against taking the red pill, in an attempt to shame those whose eyes have been opened to the demonic disaster that is engulfing us.