By Philip Pullella
VATICANCITY (Reuters) – Ultra-conservative Catholic militants admitted they stole statues they consider to be Amazon pagan idols from a church near the Vatican on Monday and dumped them from a bridge into the Tiber River.
A video posted on internet and given prominence on conservative Catholic media websites such as EWTN television and LifeSite News showed the four-minute episode, which police said they were treating as a theft.
The statues were on display along with other Amazon artefacts at the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, several blocks from the Vatican.
The three identical statues of a kneeling pregnant indigenous woman were replicas of one used during a tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican gardens in the presence of Pope Francis this month that conservatives found outrageous.
Conservatives accused the Vatican of letting what they consider a likeness of a pagan goddess of Mother Earth known as Pachamama onto sacred Christian ground.
The Vatican said at the time that the statue was a symbol of life. Asked about the theft on Monday, the Vatican’s head of communications, Paolo Ruffini, said it was a “a stunt”.
The tree-planting ceremony where the controversy started took place before the start of a three-week assembly of bishops to discuss the future of the Catholic Church in the Amazon region, including the possibility of ordaining elderly married men as priests to say Mass in the vast region.
Conservatives have attacked the synod’s working document as heretical.
On Monday afternoon, LifeSite News, which began an online petition to remove the statues from the church, carried a statement from people it said were the statue snatchers.
They said they carried out their action because people faithful to Jesus were “being attacked by members of our own Church. We do not accept this! We do not longer stay silent! We start to act NOW!”
The assembly, known as a synod, also has been discussing the environmental dangers to the Amazon region. Conservative Catholics, many of whom are climate change sceptics, have said the Church should concentrate on saving souls and not get involved in scientific debate about the climate.
On the day the synod started, an effigy of teen climate activist Greta Thunberg was hung from a highway overpass in Rome. The effigy, with braided hair like Thunberg’s, had a sign around its neck reading “Greta is your God.”
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)