A German diocese has banned the Pachamama thief for his “reprehensible” promotion of Church “division”.

Driving the news

The diocese of Aachen, in Germany’s west, stepped in to veto a planned talk in the parish of St. Gertrud Herzogenrath by Alexander Tschugguel, the 26-year-old Austrian ultraconservative activist who stole native indigenous statues on display in the Roman church of Santa Maria in Traspontina during last October’s Amazon Synod and threw them into the Tiber River.

The diocese prohibited Tschugguel’s talk, slated for February 10, out of a concern that “the planned discussion could unsettle believers, defame the Pope and contribute to the division of the Church”, as parish priest of St. Gertrud Herzogenrath, Fr. Guido Rodheudt, explained in a statement.

Aachen diocesan spokesman Stefan Wieland added that the local Church was “greatly concerned that the faithful might be unsettled” by Tschugguel’s talk, and that local bishop Helmut Dieser had previously expressed a warning that “the event should not lead to a defamation of the pope”.

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Though as devotees of the Latin Mass, Rodheudt and his parishioners were apparently keen to hear Tschugguel’s testimony – which he ended up giving Monday at a pub near the parish hall – Rodheudt said that he had accepted his diocese’s admonition that having the young Austrian activist speak on Church premises would lead “to the division of people and thus also of the Catholic Church”.

“That… is reprehensible”, Rodheudt quoted diocesan spokesman Wieland as saying.

“It was also pointed out that the event was not to be used ‘subsequently to justify spiritually the infringing actions of the person invited'”, Rodheudt explained.

Why it matters

The authorities of the diocese of Aachen were not the only Church figures warning against giving ultraconservative Tschugguel a parish platform in the Aachen diocse.

German Church aid organisation Misereor slammed the activist’s drowning of the Pachamama statuettes as a “blow to the people of Amazonia” and “an expression of cultural and religious intolerance and oblivion to God under the pretext of acting in the name of God and the Catholic Church”.

Theologians at RWTH Aachen University linked Tschugguel’s activism to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, warning: “Those who sink religious symbols may soon be willing to sink people”.

The alarms sounded by Misereor and the Aachen theologians came after Jan-Heiner Tück, a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Vienna, blasted Tschugguel for desecrating the Pachamama statues.

Tück hit out at Tschugguel and accused him of having “a constricted view of Catholicism”.

The theologian added that the young Austrian and his fellow Pachamama-haters damage the truth of the Catholicism they claim to serve through their intolerance and contempt for “the true, the good, and the sacred” also present “in non-Christian religions and cultures”.

For the record

During the Amazon Synod, Synod organisers and Vatican officials also criticised Tschugguel’s robbery, which he said he perpetrated to rid the Church of “pagan idols” but for which he was applauded by ultraconservative laypeople and even high-ranking cardinals.

“I can only say that stealing something from a place, moreover sacred, is a stunt, a gesture without meaning, that contradicts the spirit of dialogue that should always animate everyone – a theft that speaks for itself”, Vatican Communications head Paolo Ruffini said at the time.

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Pope apologises to indigenous for robbery, profanation of Amazon statues

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.