Alexander Tschugguel, who provoked the fury of Vatican authorities after tossing five statues of the fertility goddess Pachamama into the river Tiber, was deplatformed by the parish of St. Gertrud Herzogenrath after resident priest Fr. Guido Rodheudt issued a press statement claiming "the planned discussion could unsettle believers, defame the Pope and contribute to the division of the Church."
The 26-year-old Austrian — a convert from Lutheranism — was forced to move the event to Haus Goertz, a gastropub on the Dutch border in Kohlscheid, Herzogenrath, just over a mile from the parish hall. It was held under police protection.
The bishop of Aachen's press officer, Stefan Wieland, said that the diocese was "greatly concerned that the faithful might be unsettled" and that Deputy Vicar General Rolf-Peter Cremer had previously cautioned Fr. Rodheudt in a letter on behalf of Bp. Helmut Dieser that "the event should not lead to a defamation of the pope."
The event was canceled two days before the scheduled date on Monday "to relieve the concerns of my bishop," Wieland commented.
Wieland insisted that it was the parish priest and parish who took the decision to censor the event and the diocese of Aachen had not "demanded" this action.
However, the parish priest said that he canceled the event in order to "comply with the request of the diocese leadership and avoid the feared damage" from Tschugguel's talk.
Father Rodheudt said that the press officer wrote to him stating that hosting Tschugguel's address would contribute "to the division of people and thus also of the Catholic Church. That, too, is reprehensible, in my view. That's why you as the responsible priest should actually not allow this event."
Rodheudt further explained that Tschugguel's removal of the Pachamama figures from the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina during the Amazon Synod had "generated a worldwide media echo and was met with rejection, but also with the approval of prominent members of the College of Cardinals."
Especially against the background of the large international public of Mr. Tschugguel's action and its controversial assessment, even in the highest circles of the Roman Church, the main point, as has been publicly explained, should be to discuss the question of the possibility or impossibility of adapting non-Christian cult acts and use the increased attention for the discourse.
Tschugguel's proposed talk also came under fire from the Catholic aid organization Misereor who calls his dunking of the Pachamama idols 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, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, slammed Tschugguel's actions: "Those who sink religious symbols may soon be willing to sink people."
Vienna University theologian Jan-Heiner Tück also dismissed Tschugguel as a "self-appointed defender of the Catholic faith" who perpetuates "a tradition that continues to burden the history of the Church's mission," in an interview last week with Katholisch.de, the German bishops' newspaper.
"The zeal that had been discharged in the sinking of the figures in the Tiber was historically blind," said Tück, explaining how Vatican II "overcame exclusivity that sees the only true religion in the Catholic Church and rejects all other religious beliefs as false."
A source told Church Militant that the parish and its priest are faithful Catholics who center their lives on the Holy Mass and Confession and actually wanted to allow Tschugguel the opportunity to raise questions and generate debate as part of their monthly Monday talks.
The parish's website underlines the centrality of the Holy Eucharist as forming "the Church according to the will of Jesus Christ" and stresses that "the core of the parish is not external activities or communal activity, but Jesus Christ, whose memory we celebrate in Holy Mass."
Father Rodheudt regularly celebrates the Tridentine Latin Mass and uses Gregorian chant. "The 'old mass' is necessary for the recovery of the Church, it is not a playground for 'nostalgics,'" he writes, pleading for a return to the extraordinary rite.
"In addition to Holy Mass, it is the sacrament of reconciliation that contributes to the parish life of grace," reads the parish's mission statement.
Tschugguel's actions were condemned by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication at the Amazon Synod in October.
"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," Ruffini told the media.
Church Militant repeatedly attempted to contact Tschugguel for comment but there was no response by press time.
The Holy See Press Office will announce Pope Francis' decisions on the Amazon Synod on Wednesday afternoon.