Dorothy Cummings McLean

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A boat carrying a wooden statue of a naked woman with child ('Pachamama') is carried by indigenous people in St. Peter's Basilica during the opening ceremony for the Amazon Synod, Rome, Oct. 7, 2019. Vatican News / video screen grab

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Amazonian ‘missionary team’ hides Pachamama from LifeSite journalists trying to photograph it

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Editor’s note: Our Scotland-based reporter, Dorothy Cummings McLean, has been sent to Italy to join our Rome correspondent, Diane Montagna, in covering the Synod for the Bishops of the Pan-Amazon Region. A lifelong diarist, Dorothy has volunteered to give readers a glimpse into life off-camera as she carries out what she calls “a dream assignment.” Read all of her Amazon Synod diary posts HERE.

Friday, October 25, 2019 

It rained hard on Thursday night, and the pavement was still wet this morning when I ventured out for Mass and my customary cappuccino. Going to Mass before beginning work feels like I’m putting on invisible armor for the day ahead. Today I definitely needed it. 

The line-up at the press conference after the morning’s synod meetings included Sister Inés Azucena Zambrano Jara, a Colombian missionary sister; Fr. Miguel Heinz, the German president of Adveniat, a German charitable organization; a Brazilian Lutheran pastor named Nicolau Nascimento de Pavia; and Bishop Evaristo Pascoal Spengler, O.F.M., the ordinary of Marajó in Brazil.    

The person who interested me most here is Fr. Heinz, for Adveniat has an annual income of $56 million. This chunk of change comes to the German relief organization thanks to the Catholic German taxpayer, who has to pay the government’s Church tax or sign a form excommunicating himself. German bishops are paid by the state, too, so separation of Church and state is not as clear cut as it is in Canada and the U.S. At any rate, the separation of the Churches in the Amazon region and the Church in Germany cannot be clear cut, either, as the Church in Germany is pouring millions of dollars into Amazon-region Church programs.  

Fr. Heinz spoke second, right after Sister Inés, and the first thing he said was a joke at her expense. The Colombian nun had spoken very enthusiastically about her experience as a woman at the synod and about the indigenous people she serves. The German priest told the assembled world media that he would speak Spanish, “but more slowly than Sister.”

There was a hearty laugh from the more sycophantic types among the media (more on them anon), and Sister Inés' face fell. She looked at Heinz reproachfully and indicated her watch, and I thought all this German and Latin American agitation for women’s “ordination” is not going to stop powerful German men from making jokes at Latin American women’s expense. Naturally Heinz advocated in his speech for a Church that is “moving forward” and said that the Latin American Church is ahead of the German Church in implementing Vatican II and “living in a new way.” 

The behavior of the press was really odd, as if they weren’t actually journalists―or even journalist-activists―but PR officers. During the question period, they applauded after Paolo Ruffini, the Prefect for the Dicastery of Communications, told journalist Sandro Magister a flat untruth: that there had been no prostrations before the Pachamama images. Well, we’ve all seen the photos, if we haven’t seen the actual footage, so why were the journos clapping? 

The next episode of bizarre press behavior occurred when my LifeSiteNews colleague Diane Montagna began to ask her questions. Diane asked about the wish to admit women to holy orders in the face of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s will for a male priesthood, the meeting three Brazilian bishops had had with Brazilian socialist and communist politicians in Rome the previous week, and how much money and personnel Adveniat had contributed to the synod.

Good questions, right? And yet other journalists sighed audibly, groaned, complained, and a woman cried “Oh, come on!” as if asking difficult questions was not, in fact, our job.  

The hubbub can’t be heard on the Vatican News video, but you can see a woman from “FutureChurch” turn in her seat and look daggers at Diane. 

“How about a drink?” I asked Diane afterwards.

“I don’t really have time for coffee,” she replied.

“I didn’t say coffee,” I said with meaning. 

I felt like only a gin-and-tonic could help me recover from the toxicity in that room.  

However, I managed to recover without alcohol, which was a very good thing, for soon afterwards I heard the surreptitious recording of Pope Francis saying that the police had recovered the “Pachamamas” from the Tiber and that he, as Bishop of Rome, apologized for their theft from Santa Maria in Traspontina. 

The Pachamama story once again dominates the synod, suspected violations of the First Commandment driving any other Amazonian concerns out of the mind of the world’s English-speaking synod-watchers. 

Saturday, October 28, 2019: The Return of the Pachamamas

A sunny day in Rome, part sublime, part frightening, part ridiculous. Pope Francis had suggested that the apparently recovered Pachamama statues might be displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica for the synod’s closing Mass on Sunday. This led to several references to the Abomination of Desolation (see Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14, and Daniel 9:27) on social media. Some Catholic Twitter users are foretelling terrible fates for St. Peter’s, which makes me rather nervous, as I will be in it tomorrow, covering the closing Mass. 

But I forgot about that when I joined the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage to the Chair of Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica late this morning for a wonderful Mass celebrated according to the Extraordinary Form. My LifeSiteNews colleague Jim was there, filming it, and it truly was “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven,” complete with a trained and reverent choir. 

As this Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s, not heaven, an elderly couple in front of me chatted audibly non-stop for the 40 or so minutes between the pilgrims’ arrival and the beginning of the celebration. I mention this only so readers who are inspired to see the Mass of Ages don’t expect perfect consideration from us all-too-human traditionalists. The Mass was incomparably sublime; the congregation―not so much. Still, it was only that one elderly couple who made a racket while others prayed, and maybe they are deeply in love.  

Afterwards I went to lunch with Jim and other English-speaking traditionalists. On the way we passed a group of the Amazonian “missionary team” greeting cardinals by Vatican City’s Porta Sant’Anna. To my horror, they were holding a large banner with the photograph of a naked indigenous woman breastfeeding a piglet. Once I failed to ask the obvious question: why did they think this image was the best way of representing their cause to the outside world? Instead Jim and I joined tourists in taking photographs as cardinals posed with the Amazonians. One of the activists shook a rattle around a smiling cardinal. Apart from the piglet and rattles, it all reminded me of a polling station in the UK, where party activists are allowed to stand outside and influence votes. 

When Jim and I passed that way again, two hours later, the missionary team was still at the gate, posing for pictures with tourists. This time, however, they had a large carving of Pachamama with them. This surprised us, as we had been told the Pachamamas were in police custody. Is there an inexhaustible supply? Jim left me his camera bag and strode around in front to capture Pachamama’s return, but the Amazonians began to object. One woman hid Pachamama behind her back as the group began to remonstrate with Jim. I saw one of them pointing at his press badge.  

Jim turned for his bag looking chagrined.

“They said, ‘We’ve had enough of you,’” he said.  

I went back to my apartment to write and to nap. But I got a tip that the Final Document of the Synod was going to be released, so I packed up my computer and rushed to the Sala Stampa. There were a few journalists sitting around the auditorium watching a live-feed of the final synod meeting. Unfortunately, Pope Francis gave his final address in Spanish and the handy translation devices were nowhere to be found, so my colleagues listening at home certainly understood more of it than I did. For what it’s worth, here’s the link to the Vatican News report. I did understand when Pope Francis was criticizing “Christian elites,” and I assumed rightly that he was not talking about cardinals, bishops, or anyone else who came to Rome on the Catholic German taxpayers’ 10 Euro cents.  

The last synod meeting wrapped up with a solemn Te Deum in Latin and then a joyful song by some of the participants. Then the livestream ended and more journalists started drifting into the hall. Some big names turned up for this final press conference: The New York Times, The Washington Post. The reporters with contacts within the synod or who had waylaid the synod participants began to whisper the results of the Final Document to their pals: married priests had got the two-thirds vote needed. Women’s “ministries” had passed “with a comfortable margin.” The “Amazonian Rite” had passed.

Select journalists were emailed the synod document by the Sala Stampa, with strict instructions not to publish until the press conference was over. My colleague Diane got it, and she mailed it to our editor-in-chief and to me. It was in Spanish. Someone handed Diane a sealed copy of the working English translation just before the conference began.  

Tonight’s panelists were Bishop David Martínez, who looked overjoyed, and Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J. The press was given strict instructions that all questions had to be about the Final Document (which we hadn’t had time to read), so I silently shelved my desire to know if those novelties proposed for the Amazon region would soon be proposed for the Canadian North and the German Middle. 

The Director of the Sala Stampa, Matteo Bruni, summed up Pope Francis’ final speech to the synod, including his mixed thanks to the communications team and the media. The Prefect for Communications, Paolo Ruffini, said that the Final Document was the result of synodal discernment―perhaps to squelch rumors that it had been written beforehand. He described how the document was organized, called it a “diagnosis” of what the times are asking of us, and repeated Pope Francis’ admonishments. Fr. Costa, S.J., the Secretary for Information, contrasted the fires in the Amazon with the fire that does not destroy―the Gospel. He also said that the faces of the synod fathers as they came out of the final meeting were “joyful.” 

Bishop Martínez reflected that, thanks to a lack of missionaries, the extraction of gold was closer to his communities than the Word of God. He described the Final Document as full of concern for the Amazonian territory and appeals for the world to be allies of the indigenous people. He also reflected on the images that have gone around the world of Pope Francis with bishops meeting the Amazonians, which he said showed that “we are going forward with the Pope to the Amazon.”

Cardinal Czerny, who spoke English, underscored that Pope Francis had thanked the media for helping the synod reach the public. The cardinal outlined the “conversions” called for by the document: pastoral, cultural, ecological, and synodal. He emphasized that there must be change in order to solve the problems of the Amazon. (To hear his 11-minute speech, click here and scroll forward to 15:05.) Czerny also talked about respecting “the other,” which once again made me wonder whether the synod or the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) had thought about another “other”: millions of Catholics who would be horrified by both Pachamama and the pig poster. 

Czerny believes, by the way, that “the ecological crisis is so deep that if we don’t change, we won’t make it.”

“That’s the message,” he said, and I’m happy to put it out there. Listen to his speech and decide what you think. I thought he was completely sincere.   

Czerny made an attempt at defining synodal conversion, but unfortunately the closest he came to it―and this was in the questions section―was that it was giving up your own firmly held beliefs for the sake of going forward. 

Pope Francis said he didn’t want the media to focus only on a small part of the document, but naturally we were longing to hear about married priests and the possibility of women deacons. This is partly because these were concrete proposals actually within the scope of the Church’s decision-making powers. Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register asked Czerny what he would say to theologians who argue that “ordaining” women as deacons is contrary to doctrine. The cardinal replied that they should take it up with the Commission on the Diaconate of Women. My LifeSIteNews colleague Diane Montana asked about ministerial roles for women at Mass as official Lectors and Acolytes.  

We also had a question about the ministry for “woman leadership of the community,” to quote paragraph 102 of the highly unreliable “unofficial working translation of the original document in Spanish.” As LifeSiteNews had already had a question answered, Diane didn’t think we’d get another shot. However, I stuck my hand up and stared pleadingly at Ruffini and Bruni. It was almost a comic situation, since clearly LifeSiteNews’ coverage has been less than flattering, but I wanted them to pick me all the same.  

Success! After three weeks of silent scribbling, your humble correspondent finally got the microphone. But I soon regretted it, for after I asked about the community leadership ministry, the panellists looked confused, consulted each other, and flipped through the pages of the Final Document. I was suddenly terrified that I had got this completely wrong. However, eventually Bishop Martínez responded in Spanish – I typed madly as the translation poured into my ears – and then Bishop Czerny added that they were thinking of an “ecological ministry.” To Martínez’s credit, he admitted that they hadn’t thought this through in detail. 

So that was half my story for the night – the other half was the English translation was so bad as to have dropped one of the most controversial points of the whole Final Document – and I went back to my apartment feeling that I had done my journalistic duty.

The news that the synod wants to relax the rule on celibacy, create official “ministries” for women, and lean on the Commission on the Diaconate of Women had hit Catholic social media, and I was perturbed to see an acquaintance tweet his hope that a meteor will fall on Rome tomorrow. I, for one, do not share this hope, for not only am I still in Rome, I will be in St. Peter’s Basilica to see if Pachamama really does put in an appearance. 

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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.