Contrary to the claims of Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, the action carried out by two unknown persons who threw Pachamama statues into the Tiber is an act of legitimate defense of the Catholic faith, rather than theft. Saint Thomas Aquinas says so, and here is why.
Let us first address the taking of Pachamama statuettes from the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina that were then thrown into the Tiber (click here).
Avvenire, the daily news agency of the Italian Catholic bishops, reports this comment by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication: “We learned about this gesture from social networks. I can only say that stealing something from a place, especially a sacred one, is a stunt, a meaningless gesture that contradicts the spirit of dialogue that should always animate everyone: a theft that speaks for itself.”
From the legal point of view, Ruffini is right: it is theft. And since the artifacts were destroyed, article 404 of the Criminal Code could apply: “Offenses to a religious confession by insulting or damaging property.” The article punishes, among other behaviors, anyone who destroys “things that are the object of worship or consecrated to worship or necessarily intended for the exercise of worship.”
But here, an interesting dilemma arises: Are those objects sacred? The answer could be twofold: for the Catholic Church, no, but for indigenous people, yes. Or: yes, for some Catholics, and equally yes for natives. However, since those objects apparently belonged to some Catholics (also in cassocks), one would have to ask them whether they consider those objects sacred. For the record: Father Antonio Soffiantini, responsible for the “Common Home” exhibit association, who reported the perpetrators’ “stunt” for theft, has discarded these subtle distinctions.
But let us analyze the conduct of the two “brave” fellows (to put it like Ruffini) from a moral perspective that the law itself must respect (for the common good, the law must implement something which morality indicates as truth). In the first instance, we must dismiss that the act is sacrilegious because the objects are not sacred. And they are not objectively sacred, because the only sacred objects are those destined for the worship of the true God, the God of Jesus Christ. These objects are pagan idols and remain such even if natives, deceiving themselves, believe otherwise. An act on non-sacred goods could be sacrilegious because of the place where it is done, such as stealing alms in a church. But this is not the case because eliminating those statuettes defends and favors worship, rather than degrading it. Therefore, it is a good action.
Let us delve deeper into this issue. The action by the two unknown persons is an act of legitimate self-defense on behalf of the Catholic Faith and is not theft. Just as it is legitimate to remove from a legitimate gun owner the weapon he wants to use for an illicit purpose, so also it is permissible to take those statuettes from their legitimate owners because they would have been used to attack the Catholic faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly states: “Since sometimes it happens that man’s will is unrighteous, there are cases in which a deposit should not be restored, lest a man of unrighteous will make evil use of the thing deposited: as when a madman or an enemy of the commonweal demands the return of his weapons” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 57, a. 2, ad 1. Cf. Ibidem, Scriptum super sententiis, lib. IV, d. 17, q. 3, a. 1, qc. 4, ad 3). Just as it is permissible not to return a weapon to its owner who wants to use it for unjust purposes, so also it is permissible to take a good from the owner if he pursues similar aims.
Therefore, the material act of taking was informed by the good purpose of the defense. This purpose is posited precisely because the legitimate owners showed themselves to be unjust aggressors to the detriment of certain goods of the faith (if there were no aggression, there could be no defense). In anticipation of their reiteration of the act, our “brave” fellows did well to steal the statuettes from the church and throw them into the Tiber.
Here is an objection we read on the net: “Doing justice yourself constitutes the crime of arbitrarily taking the law into your hands. It is violence at least as great as that of the Ordinary who did not prevent the scandal.” From the legal point of view, we believe the regulations, as mentioned above, can be applied, rather than article 392 of the Criminal Code, which refers to the crime of arbitrarily taking the law into one’s hands. However, on the moral side, it is interesting to underline this condition foreseen by the same article: It is forbidden to take the law into one’s own hands while “being able to appeal to a judge.” Conversely, if it is impossible to have recourse to a judge or the judge is unfair, it is permissible to take the law into one’s hands. Concerning pagan cults in the Vatican and the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, on several occasions, people had recourse to the “judge,” and shouts of against the scandal were heard from many quarters to no avail.
There is no moral offense of arbitrarily taking the law into one’s hands in case of necessity. If Ted kills Tom in self-defense because there was no police around to defend him, Ted does not end up in jail because he should have waited for the police to defend him. Saint Thomas points out: “If it is indeed a matter of immediate danger allowing no time to consult a superior, such necessity carries its own dispensation, for necessity knows no law” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 96, a. 6 c.). Here is the point: Where the designated authority is absent or fails in its task, then a private citizen can vicariously take the law into his own hands. Think of a State where it was decided to leave killers unpunished, and consequently, no work of prevention and repression was carried out. Self-defense would be the only way for a private individual to defend himself.
The same is happening to the Catholic faith in our day. If the ecclesiastical authorities have not only shown themselves unwilling to eliminate pagan idols from their rites but even facilitated pagan worship – in other words, those who must defend the Catholic faith become aggressors, and it is impossible to appeal to them in order to have justice. We must, therefore, defend ourselves from them. Since attempts at dissuading them from allowing those to continue in the future, a forceful intervention was required. Therefore, the removal and destruction of the statuettes are legitimate because they are a way of defending the Catholic faith given the circumstances: a defense done as a last resort after having tried other solutions (thus respecting the principle of proportion, which commands to pursue a goal by adopting the most effective way).
Source: La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
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Translated by the staff of Pan-Amazon Synod-Watch.