Opinion: Church's apology not enough for some Native people

Amah Mutson Band Chairman Valentin Lopez, right, attended the Mass of Reconciliation at Mission San Juan Batista in 2012. Photo from Amah Mutsun Band

Celebrating Junipero Serra, the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California, requires an "explicit examination of conscience," New York Times editorial board member Lawrence Downes writes:
Nobody needs to tell Pope Francis, of Argentina, anything about the consequences of Spanish invasion. Last month, in Bolivia, he apologized for the church’s “grave sins” against native peoples.

But to some Californians, regret is not enough. Small bands of protesters have been trying to pierce the good will humming around the canonization. Indian activists like Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun tribal band, have written letters. They say the poverty and social ills among California’s scattered Indian tribes are the echoes of great evils from the distant past.

“How can Pope Francis and the Catholic Church speak or act with moral authority when they know that they have mistreated the indigenous people?” Mr. Lopez says. “They lost the moral authority, and by canonizing Serra, they lose any claim of moral authority going forward.”

But even he admits it’s too late to turn back sainthood. The church apologizes and, powerless to alter history, moves on, resolving to sin no more.

It is possible, of course, to celebrate St. Junipero in the California of today, where Hispanic faith and love of the church are strong. But to do so requires an explicit examination of conscience.

In that spirit, it is helpful to read a book like “A Cross of Thorns,” by Elias Castillo, a California journalist who does not hide his disdain for the little priest from Mallorca. His prosecution brief includes testimony taken in 1797 by a Spaniard, Lt. José Argüello, from Indians who had fled the missions and were recaptured. (Once brought into the missions and baptized, Indians were not free to leave at will.)

Get the Story:
Lawrence Downes: California’s Saint, and a Church’s Sins (The New York Times 8/18)

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