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CA Bishops Defend 'Historical Truth' as Missionary, Saint Comes Under Attack

Combined Shape
  • The California Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced the removal of statues of St. Junípero Serra in a Monday statement.
  • Statues of the Roman Catholic saint have come under fire over accusations that he reflects oppression of indigenous peoples.
  • “The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities,” the bishops said in the statement. 

The California Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced the removal of statues of St. Junípero Serra and defended the Roman Catholic saint’s legacy in a Monday statement.

“The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities,” the bishops wrote in a statement.

“Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era.”

“And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards,” the statement concluded.

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George Floyd’s death has sparked worldwide demands for statues of historical figures to be removed or replaced. In many cases, rioters have torn these monuments down.

Serra, a Franciscan monk credited with the spread of Catholicism in the western United States, founded nine missions along the coast of California beginning in 1769 and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015. He was the first Catholic saint to be canonized on U.S. soil.

Catholics have praised Serra for his dedication to evangelizing the indigenous peoples of California and for pushing back against the harsh treatment they received from Spanish soldiers, but critics accuse him of forcing native tribes to abandon their cultures by converting to Catholicism.

Some have criticized Serra for being “complicit” in “the brutal and dehumanizing conquest of native tribes in California.”

Do you believe the remaining statues of St. Junípero Serra are safe?

Serra has also been accused of introducing foreign diseases to indigenous tribes and forcing natives to build the missions, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the California Conference of Catholic Bishops defended Serra from these accusations in a Monday news release.

The bishops emphasized the importance of “the movement to confront racism,” noting that they “vigorously and wholeheartedly support a broad national coalition, especially in its peaceful dedication to eliminating racism against members of the African-American and Native American communities.”

The bishops noted, however, that if the removal of statues of historical figures is to be effective “as a remedy for racism,” those removing statues must “discern carefully the entire contribution that the historical figure in question made to American life, especially in advancing the rights of marginalized peoples.”

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The bishops’ news release refers to comments made by San Fransisco Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone, who recently praised Serra’s efforts to “protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers.”

“Even with his infirmed leg which caused him such pain, he walked all the way to Mexico City to obtain special faculties of governance from the Viceroy of Spain in order to discipline the military who were abusing the Indians,” Cordileone said. “And then he walked back to California.”

Cordileone added: “St. Junípero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts.”

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