"''Arrogant.'' ''Disrespectful.'' ''Poorly advised.'' These harsh words were not aimed at an unpopular president; not this time. They are the criticisms by Indian leaders in Latin America of Pope Benedict XVI, who again made headlines for culturally insensitive and historically inaccurate remarks.
About this time last year the pope stirred international controversy when he characterizing the Prophet Mohammed as having spread Islam by the sword in an ''evil and inhuman'' manner. On May 15 he declared that the Roman Catholic Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Pope Benedict continues to stir up controversy wherever in the world he lands. But this particular papal idiom cannot be attributed to or excused as simple ignorance. There is an element of intent in the pope's recent remarks that should anger, and mobilize, indigenous people throughout the world.
In a speech at the Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, the pope characterized pre-contact Indians as ''silently longing'' for Christianity and stated that ''the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.'' It may be the most blatantly erroneous statement about the Christian legacy on indigenous cultures ever uttered.
Not only did the pope's comments exhibit an ever-increasing general arrogance that aims to deny the rights of indigenous peoples around the world but, in this rare case, they came straight from the source. Millions of tribal people died as a result of the institution of the 15th century Inter Caetera papal bulls that provided legal justification for European colonization of the Native people of the Americas (including Brazil where Benedict spoke) and Africa. Then, Indians were slaughtered, enslaved or exposed to deadly diseases. Now, Native survivors of Christian colonization efforts suffer its traumatic generational effects: a diminished ability to relate to and practice traditional life ways, social exclusion and learned sexual abuse. If this does not qualify as an ''imposition'' on the culture of indigenous peoples, what does? "
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Holy disaster: Pope alienates indigenous peoples
(Indian Country Today 5/18)
Pope: Indians were 'silently longing' for