ROME — Wooden Amazon fertility statuettes were removed from a church near the Vatican and thrown into the Tiber River Monday.
A video of the early morning transfer of the figurines from the Santa Maria in Traspontina church to the nearby river went viral Monday but was the incident was downplayed by the Vatican’s communications director Paolo Ruffini who called it a “stunt.”
“We have already repeated several times here that those statues represented life, fertility, mother earth. It was a gesture – I believe – that contradicts the spirit of dialogue that should always inspire us. I don’t know what else to say except that it was a theft, and perhaps that speaks for itself,” Ruffini said.
The statuettes’ forced eviction from the church follows on weeks of controversy surrounding the identity of the figurines depicting a naked, pregnant woman, which were originally presented to Pope Francis as “Our Lady of the Amazon.” Vatican spokesmen later denied that the statues represent the Virgin Mary.
“It is not the Virgin Mary, who said it is the Virgin Mary?” said Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa at an October 16 press conference for the synod.
On October 4, Pope Francis presided over a prayer service in the Vatican gardens where the statues figured prominently.
At the time, an Amazon tribal chief said that the event appeared to be organized by proponents of Liberation Theology and have “pagan” elements.
Jonas Marcolino Macuxí, the chief of the Amazonian Macuxi tribe, said that the indigenous people who participated in the ceremony were “completely dominated by Liberation Theology people who want to take advantage of them,” adding that the ceremony looked decidedly “pagan.”
Many Catholics protested when the statues — which appeared to many as pagan idols with no place in a Christian church — were placed in a side chapel of the Traspontina church, which has hosted daily indigenous celebrations.
After the statues were dumped in the Tiber, the video of the incident was tweeted out by U.S. author and philosophy professor, Taylor Marshall, who suggested that the figurines had been removed as a purification of the church.
“I announce to you with great joy: the Pachamama idols that polluted the Church of St Maria Traspontina have been cast away into the Tiber River as an act of obedience to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ & in reparation to His Sacred Heart wounded by sin,” he said.
Marshall also insisted that “destroying pagan idols inside a Catholic church is never theft.”
A number of leading Catholic prelates have expressed their deep concern over the Amazonian synod, suggesting that its working document contained many elements of paganism and that it was being instrumentalized to introduce new practices into the universal church.
Others have underscored the synods problematic financing when reports revealed that significant funding for the summit had come from the pro-abortion Ford Foundation, despite Pope Francis’ declaration that the Church refuses to accept “dirty money.
The synod will end next weekend with bishops voting on a series of proposals to be presented to Pope Francis for his consideration. Sometime afterward, Francis is expected to publish an official document incorporating some of these elements at his discretion.