June 22nd 2021 | Massimo Introvigne | Bitterwinter

On August 6, 1875, Gabriel García Moreno, President of Ecuador, was assassinated in Quito. The assassins were fanatical anti-Catholics upset by the pro-Catholic policies of the President, particularly by the fact that he had publicly consecrated Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Happily, matters today are more often solved through courts than through assassinations, but the Vice President of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, got into trouble when she decided to consecrate her country to the Virgin of Fatima (i.e., the Virgin Mary venerated in the shrine of Fátima, Portugal, where Catholics believe she appeared in 1917). She did it on May 13, 2020. It was the feast day for Our Lady of  Fátima in the Catholic calendar, and Ramírez asked the Virgin to protect Colombia from COVID-19.

It is unclear what Ramírez exactly did, except that she posted announcements of the consecration on both Twitter and Facebook.

A secular humanist called César Enrique Torres Palacios immediately sued Ramírez, claiming her actions had violated the principle of separation of church and state and discriminated against non-Catholics. On May 20, 2020, Ramírez eliminated the posts from Twitter and Facebook, and stated that she has a great respect for all religions and beliefs, yet maintained that her act of consecration interpreted the feelings of a majority of Colombians.

On June 7, 2020, the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca found in favor of Torres, stating that removing the posts was not enough, and that Ramírez should clearly state that she supports the principle of separation of church and state, and acknowledge that her social media posts violated it.

However, on July 30, 2020, the Council of State on appeal reversed the judgement, stating that by removing the posts and posting statements on her respect for freedom of religion or belief of all Colombians, Ramírez adequately took care of the matter and should not be further censored.

The case went before the Constitutional Court, which rendered its judgement on May 21, 2021. The decision offers an interesting discussion of the role of social media. Whatever happens on Facebook or Twitter, it says, is by definition public. Even whether or not Ramírez performed some sort of ceremony is irrelevant, because today social media are perceived as public loci of public events.

Accordingly, while agreeing with the Council of State that no order can be issued against Ramírez based on the consecration, it still asked the Vice President to post the Constitutional Court’s decision on social media, and to refrain in the future from actions or statements that can be interpreted as violating the principle of separation of church and state. It also instructed the Presidential Counsel for Communication to advise the highest authorities of the country that everything posted on social media is public, and they should be careful when handling their accounts.

Consecrations to the Virgin Mary or Jesus are common in Catholic countries in times of crisis, but they are generally performed by Bishops rather than by secular authorities.

There were, however, cases where public authorities performed the consecrations themselves. For instance, in 2001, the Governor of Sicily consecrated the region to the Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Tears of Siracusa, specifying that it was not a “private prayer but a formal and official act.”  The consecration was not challenged in court, although later, when the same Governor was sentenced to a 5-year jail term for passing confidential information to organized crime, there were calls on the Catholic Church to no longer mention the act in its official documents.