Suppose a Catholic loves Kentucky Fried Chicken and talks about it incessantly. His fellow co-religionists may find it odd, worry about his arteries, but would likely consider him harmlessly eccentric.
Suppose KFC Catholic decides to take it one step further. He carries the statue of Colonel Sanders in procession, places it on the altar, and starts to prostrate in front of the statue.
If his fellow Catholics were really patient, they might ask him to leave and to take his statue with him.
If “zeal for My house has consumed [them]” (John 2:17), they might decide to throw both statue and person out of the church and (hopefully) only Colonel Sanders into the Singapore River.
The issue in this case was never about whether KFC is objectively tasty, or whether Colonel Sanders is a good man for having invented a recipe requiring 13 herbs and spices.
The issue is the type of honor to Colonel Sanders that is due only to God.
The essence of idolatry is not simply a straightforward case of worshiping something intrinsically evil.
Idolatry is often more subtle. It is the giving of honor and priority to a creature, which is due only to the Creator.
As the Catechism states:
“Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons, power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money etc.” (CCC 2113)
Catholics who have been following the Pachamama debacle know where this piece is going.
An Amazonian bishop, Jose Luis Azcona, has slammed the prostration towards the statue of Pachamama and its presence on the altar of a Church as a “demonic sacrilege”.
On the other hand, we have a booklet produced by the mission wing of the Italian bishops conference which contained a prayer to Pachamama asking for blessings for a good harvest.
Bishop Azcona did not say that the Pachamama is demonic per se.
Rather, it is the veneration of the Pachamama by Catholics that is due only to the Triune God that is labeled a demonic sacrilege.
Bishop Azcona has called this correctly.
Again the issue is not whether the sentiments expressed, i.e. the desire for a good harvest etc., are positive or not. The issue is idolatry, the giving of honor due to something which is not God.
It may well be the case that Amazonian pagans are not engaged in idol worship when they prostrate to the pachamama. They do not know any better and believe that she is a goddess.
Catholics, on the other hand, who know the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ, would be guilty of grave sin if they do the same.
Respecting the religiosity of non-Christians is not the issue at stake.
At stake is the Church’s self-understanding. Is Jesus Christ God’s definitive self-revelation?
Does His bride the Church possess a unique revelation of God or not? Or is Christianity simply one religion among many, which has to repent from the idolatry of believing that it has the fullness of truth?
If the Church still believes what Lumen Gentium teaches, that the “Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church” (LG 8), then Cardinal Müller would be right.
“The great mistake was to bring the idols into the Church,” replies the cardinal, “not to put them out, because according to the Law of God Himself – the First Commandment – idolism [idolatry] is a grave sin and not to mix them with the Christian liturgy.”
“To put it out,” Müller continues, “to throw it out, can be against human law, but to bring the idols into the Church was a grave sin, a crime against the Divine Law.”
Most Catholic fans of Colonel Sanders would agree. Would Catholic fans of Pachamama do too?