Did the pope allow an idol in Colosseum?

Who owns the Colosseum?

Question

Why did the Vatican allow the placement of a pagan idol — one that demanded child sacrifice — in the Colosseum? (Kewaunee)

Answer

Since Sept. 27, 2019 (continuing to March 29, 2020), the Colosseum has been the site of an exhibit about ancient Carthage. Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians, along the eastern coast of Africa, about 1,000 years before Christ was born. It became the capital of a vast empire that was destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C.

During that time, one Carthaginian deity was Molech, who was associated with child sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus speaks at least five times against associating with this pagan idol.

The current exhibit — which includes a statue of Molech — is sponsored by the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum. This park includes the ancient Roman Forum and the Palatine Museum. The Italian government’s Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities and Tourism runs the park..

Last fall, as the exhibit opened, some news outlets — some clearly anti-Catholic in intent —  reported that the exhibit had been approved by the Vatican and Pope Francis. It had not.

The Vatican has no authority over the Colosseum. People may be surprised that the Colosseum is not owned or operated by the Vatican.

Yes, there is a 12-foot cross there in honor of Christian martyrs. There are churches nearby. There were even plans, long ago, to build a church or chapel there. However, while some Catholic ceremonies — such as the Good Friday Stations of the Cross (the Via Crucis) — take place at the site, it is not a place that the pope controls. This is because on Feb. 11, 1929, Pope Pius XI, through his secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, approved the Lateran Treaty with Italy. In exchange for an independent city-state — Vatican City — the pope relinquished all rights to Italian territory previously known as the Papal States. The Italian leader at the time was Benito Mussolini.

Prior to this, the Kingdom of Italy had claimed all of Italy in 1861, including Rome as its capital. However, Pope Pius IX refused to acknowledge Italy’s control over the city. What followed was a virtual imprisonment of the pope, especially after the walls of Rome were breached on Sept. 20, 1870. What followed were several decades when five popes remained — by choice — stayed within the Vatican’s walls, technically refusing to acknowledge the nation of Italy (and the end of the Papal States). These hostile conditions continued until the Lateran Treaty was signed.

The Vatican City state encompasses only 109 acres. It is completely surrounded by the much larger city of Rome (about 3,500 acres). In June of 1985, the Vatican, under St. John Paul II, and the Italian government signed the Concordat of 1985. This ratified much of the 1929 agreement.

As the Vatican News Service reported last year, the tradition of the Via Crucis at the Colosseum dates back to Pope Benedict XIV in the 18th century. St. Paul VI revived the practice in 1964. The Colosseum is about 4.5 miles from St. Peter’s Basilica — clearly outside of the Vatican’s walls.

 

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