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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of ViennaYoutube

December 23, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Christoph Cardinal Schönborn has defended the use of Pachamama at the Amazon synod, which ran last October, calling the statue of the naked woman with child a “pro-life” archetype “which naturally has its place in Christianity.”

In a wide-ranging Dec. 18 interview with Austrian weekly newspaper “Die Furche,” the archbishop of Vienna mentioned some topics he sees as the main messages of the Amazon synod — including a quote by climate scientist Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, “The destruction of the Amazonian forest is the destruction of the world” — before being asked about the use of Pachamama statues at the Vatican.

When asked if Pope Francis was promoting statues of idolatry, the Cardinal responded in the negative. 

“The controversial Pachamama statue is simply a heavily pregnant woman. Being pro-life is definitely a very strong commitment to life. As ‘mother earth’ and ‘mother of life’ she is an archetype, which naturally has its place in Christianity. Saint Francis says in the Canticle of the Sun: ‘Praised be You for Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us.’ There’s nothing else to say about this,” he said. 


Alexander Tschugguel, a young man from Schönborn’s archdiocese of Vienna, had thrown some of those statues into the Tiber river in Rome, characterizing them as idols, and many faithful Catholics had expressed their concern about their use as part of official ceremonies organized by the Vatican.

Schönborn pointed to John Henry Cardinal Newman, a recently canonized English theologian of the 19th century, saying, “Newman shows how the Church throughout the centuries always integrated religious elements from paganism.” This claim has already been discredited by many Catholics, including Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who called the comparison between what Newman said and the ceremonies using Pachamama statues “far-fetched and factually inaccurate.”

Referring to work done by Father Nelson Medina, Schneider explained “that John Henry Newman was referring to some actions or objects that are relatively neutral in themselves, and then transformed in their meaning in order to be used in the church. The images designed for the Amazon Synod have nothing of this neutrality: celebrating ‘life’ without worshiping God, the only Creator, is simple paganism. And among the pagan idols, be it the golden calf or the money of the merchants in the Temple of Jerusalem, decisive and clear measures are needed … which can reach even as far as the Tiber.”


Schönborn’s justification for the use of Pachamama at the Amazon Synod by pointing to the famous Canticle of the Sun by Saint Francis of Assisi has already been discredited as faulty. Michael Pakaluk, who teaches at the Catholic University of America, made such a case in an article published by Crisis Magazine back in October. Pakaluk states: “But that Canticle explicitly speaks clearly of sister mother earth (sora nostra matre Terra), on the same plane as sister moon and sister water. Moreover, it begins in such a way as to dispel any possible ambiguity: ‘Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing. To You alone, Most High, do they belong.’”

The Austrian cardinal additionally expressed in the interview his openness to having married priests, while at the same time affirming that celibacy is and will remain the basic form of priestly life: “Celibacy is a treasure the Roman Catholic Church should not give up.” The archbishop of Vienna emphasized being even more convinced of this fact after the Amazon synod.

Schönborn, who is responsible for 30 priests of the Greek Catholic Church in Austria, many of which are married, asked, “Why are there no permanent deacons in the Amazon? Would not viri probati diaconi be a laboratory for viri probati presbyteri, tried and tested married men to be ordained a priest?” Pressed by the interviewer, Schönborn referred to permanent deacons in Austria, who are generally volunteering in parishes while earning their money at a regular job: “The jump to becoming a priest would be a qualitative jump, because doing the priestly service as a volunteer would be very challenging indeed. But it’s not unthinkable.”

Raymond Cardinal Burke, one of the leading voices of orthodoxy within the Catholic Church, stressed back in June that celibacy and perfect continence of priests “most certainly has Apostolic origin, as demonstrated by the classic study of Father Christian Cochini SJ, Les origines apostoliques du célibat sacerdotal.” According to Burke, “the Church has understood that, when Our Lord calls someone to the priesthood, he also calls him to perfect continence as an essential expression of the priestly identity with Himself as Head and Shepherd of the flock and with His pastoral charity.”

In the interview, Cardinal Schönborn, who is considered to be close to Pope Francis and was tasked with presenting the controversial post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia in 2016, talked about women in leadership roles in the Church. He said he was certain Pope Francis, should he decide to pursue the issue of women in leadership roles, would do so in a synodal manner, taking into account the contributions of the bishops of the world.

Cardinal Schönborn had to spend some time in the hospital at the beginning of December because of an acute illness. His schedule has been cleared of most public events. On January 22, Schönborn will turn 75 years old. The obligatory offer to resign from his position as archbishop of Vienna at the age of 75 was submitted to Pope Francis during the Amazon synod in October.