First of all, hat tip to Ed Peters. Worth a read in light of the Vatican’s statements on the issue. https://canonlawblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/whatever-that-was-it-wasnt-a-stunt/ Oh, and for those still trying to claim the statues were of Mary or Mary and Elizabeth (which I totally thought how it would plausibly be explained), the Vatican itself clarified that they weren’t. See link in Ed’s piece.
So, my very non-moral theologian self thinks this is PROBABLY the scenario. Again, I’m not making any hard proclamations, just trying to provide some perspective for the “What in the @#$%!% is going on?” crowd. In short, I think the Principle of Double Effect is probably in play, so I don’t think the idol dunkers are guilty of “Thou shall not steal.”
So, what is the Principle of Double Effect for my equally non-moral theologian readers? Here is a good description, although the examples most often given are medical. What can I say? We are in strange times. I would read the full article but here’s the snapshot.
The action must be morally good, or indifferent, as to object, motive and circumstances.
The bad effect(s) may only be tolerated, not directly willed.
The good effect must be caused at least as directly as the bad.
The good effect(s) must be proportionate to compensate for the bad effect(s).
I’m not omniscient but I’m pretty sure everyone involved actually had the desecration of the church and praying to idols in mind, not petty larceny. My bet is that they were American seminarians (because we Americans just do stuff like this – it’s in our historical DNA). Like I said, I think they felt motivated to stop people from bowing down to idols AND to stop the desecration of the churches. So that action and motive would be morally good. Check box number one.
On to number two! Stealing (many have used the term relocated) or smashing idols, offending the indigenous people, etc., was presumably not the direct will of the actors. By the way, do you know how many saints have smashed idols??? Lots. Nobody accuses them of theft. I have to wonder, if the idols were simply smashed in the church, would anyone actually say boo about this? The outcome is the same. Idols are gone. Tossing them in the river is a historically traditional Catholic way of doing things like this. Sounds like idols and the remains of heretics have been tossed into rivers for centuries, so the actual method of disposal kind of shows even more good intent.
They’re good on number three, because placing these idols in a church or bowing down to them is WAY worse than anything else of which the idol dunkers could be accused.
And number four really depends on whether or not you like said idols. If you do not and you hold to the First Commandment (not sure why nobody mentions that one, and it’s all about trying to pin breaking the Seventh Commandment on the idol dunkers), you’re going to see a HUGE good effect in getting rid of them and zero bad effect.
The stealing issue is where people are trying desperately to hang their hats. So here are some questions. What if I took someone’s gun because they were clearly having some mental issues and I thought they might shoot themselves or others? I took the gun. Would people consider that stealing? How about if I took my drunk friend’s car keys? What if I took an acquaintance’s porn magazine and tossed them in the garbage? Put a stack of campus flyers from Planned Parenthood in the trash? Protection of others is always the intent. So can that be said of this incident? Some are going to say yes and some are going to say no, but I think this act shows a level of commitment to spiritual health and safety. It can be more abstract to faithful Catholics than we realize. Isn’t that supposed to be our utmost concern? I think we all forget this on our best days, but from time to time, it is in the forefront and I think that’s where these gents were yesterday. Bowing down to idols and desecrating a church with them is a HUGE spiritual danger to the soul. This wasn’t an anthropological museum. It was churches and the Vatican.
And one last little note to those who suggest this just shows peoples’ hate for the indigenous people, the pope, the synod, puppies and kittens, etc., etc., etc… Is that what motivated the canonized saint idols smashers of the past? Nope. It’s actually their love of God and for the pagans led astray. I’m sure this isn’t going to stop those hyperventilating over this, but maybe it’ll help those saying “Hmmmm…” To all the moral theologians out there, feel free to use the comment box. This is just my guess about it all but in light of the fact that all the idol disposing saints of the past have not been accused of breaking the Seventh Commandment, I really can’t see accusing these guys.
If you’re going to give me a scolding, please make it educational and cite your sources.