Peter d'Errico: Pope fails to address genocide of Native peoples

A statue of Junipero Serra with an Indian boy. Photo by Anatoly Terentiev / Wikipedia

Retired professor Peter d'Errico discusses the decision by Pope Francis to bestow sainthood upon Junipero Serra, the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California:
Pope Francis speaking out about the Armenian genocide is significant, but the pope has not addressed U.S. history, nor has he looked closely enough at the Christian colonial record. His proposal to canonize the 18th century Spanish monk, Junipero Serra, this year during a visit to the U.S. shows he is in denial about American Indian genocide.

A Public Broadcasting System (PBS) profile of Serra describes the monk as "a driving force in the Spanish conquest and colonization of what is now the state of California." PBS points out that the Spanish missions were "intended both to Christianize the extensive Indian populations and to serve Spain's strategic interest by preventing Russian explorations and possible claims to North America's Pacific coast."

In fact, the papacy has a clouded record when it comes to genocide. Pope Pius XII, for example, never publicly condemned the Nazi persecution of Jews, even when Jewish people were being rounded up and deported from Rome. Pius XI actually supported Mussolini's fascist government, as detailed in David Kertzer's book, "The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe." An internal Vatican document from the period states: "Catholics could only think with terror of what might happen in Italy if the Honorable Mussolini’s government were to fall...and so they have every interest in supporting it."

When Pope John Paul II issued his "apology" for 2000 years of violence against Jews, heretics, women, Gypsies and Native peoples, he blamed individuals, rather than the church itself—a position similar to that of the Turkish government, which does not deny Armenians were killed, but ascribes the killing to more or less random acts of soldiers at war, rather than to premeditated government efforts to wipe out an entire people.

The pope's legacy as an opponent of genocide will not be complete or secure until he addresses and repudiates the doctrine of "Christian Discovery." This doctrine was crafted by the papacy in the 15th century, as the legal and religious infrastructure for Christian European colonialism in the "New World." It survives to this day in U.S. federal Indian law and in other colonizer state legal systems as the foundation for government domination of Native lands.

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: The Pope and Genocide: Let's Look at the Whole Picture (Indian Country Today 4/25)

Related Stories:
Peter d'Errico: A mistake with sainthood for Indian mission figure (02/06)
Steven Newcomb: Pope celebrates church's legacy of genocide (2/4)
RNS: Critics question sainthood for the 'Columbus of California' (2/3)
Sainthood for founder of brutal California Indian mission system (01/22)
Steven Newcomb: Church set to sanctify legacy of domination (1/19)

Join the Conversation