Edward Peters

Were they Pachamama statues? Some journalists declined to quote Pope Francis on that point

Were they Pachamama statues? Some journalists declined to quote Pope Francis on that point

The question for today, after a whirlwind of Vatican news: When historians write about the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, will they call it the “Amazonian” synod or the “Pachamama” synod?

While the synod handled complex issues of Catholic tradition (ordaining married men) and the theology of holy orders (women entering the modern diaconate), it also veered into ancient questions about Christians being tempted to worship other deities. At this point, Catholic progressives and conservatives were arguing about the first item in the Ten Commandments, as in: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

But what about other gods that are, to use a progressive term, in “dialogue” with the Holy Trinity?

Journalists became involved in this debate for a simple reason: Vatican press aides kept sending mixed signals about the role of Pachamama statues in some synod rites. Some mainstream news reports — we will look at The New York Times — declined to name the woman portrayed in these statues.

That’s an interesting editorial stance, in light of remarks by Pope Francis. Here are some key sections of a report in The Catholic Herald:

The statues, which were identical carved images of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman, had been displayed in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, close to the Vatican, and used in several events, rituals, and expression of spirituality taking place during the October 6-27 Amazonian synod.

The pope said they had been displayed in the church “without idolatrous intentions,” according to a transcript provided by the Vatican press office. …

Let’s keep reading:

According to the transcript provided by the Vatican, the pope referred to the statues as “Pachamama,” the name traditionally given to an Andean fertility goddess, which can be roughly translated as “Mother Earth.”

While it is unclear whether he was using it colloquially, the pope’s use of the term “Pachamama” will likely further ongoing debate regarding the exact nature of the statutes, and what they represent.

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Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

Catholic school wars (yet) again: Can teachers take public actions that defy church doctrines?

What we have here is another one of those stories that your GetReligionistas have written about so many times that we have crossed over into a state of frustration.

Can you say “doctrinal covenant”?

At this point, it’s clear that many newsroom managers just can’t handle the fact that the Catholic Church is not (in many zip codes) a liberal democracy, which means that many Catholic bishops still think their schools should defend the contents of the Catholic catechism. OK, maybe the issue is whether people in Catholic schools get to attack the faith in symbolic ways in public.

Once again, no one thinks that journalists have to endorse the doctrines of the Church of Rome. The question is whether reporters and editors know enough about the contents of these doctrines, traditions and canon laws to cover them accurately. At a bare minimum, journalists need to know that there are experts and activists on both sides of these debates, but that — in the vast majority of cases — local bishops, representing the Vatican, are the “prevailing legal authorities.”

So here we go again. Let’s turn to USA Today, for a rather one-sided story about this latest conflict: “Cathedral High School terminates gay teacher to stay in Indianapolis Archdiocese.” As you will see, this story is Act II in a larger local drama:

Just days after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis cut ties with one Catholic high school over its decision to continue to employee a gay teacher, another school is firing one of its educators to avoid the same fate.

Cathedral High School, located on the northeast side of Indianapolis, announced Sunday it is terminating a gay teacher in order to avoid a split with the archdiocese, which stripped Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School of its Catholic identity last week.

Brebeuf refused to fire its educator, who is in a public same-sex marriage.

Cathedral's board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges posted a letter on the school's website announcing the decision to "separate" from a teacher in a public same-sex marriage. The letter is addressed to the "Cathedral family."

The archdiocese made it clear, the letter said, that keeping the teacher employed “would result in forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage.”

OK, let’s unpack this oh-so-typical conflict — yet again.

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