Steven Newcomb: Church celebrates agent of Native genocide

Steven Newcomb. Photo from Finding the Missing Link

Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute looks at the ways the Catholic Church is defending the decision by Pope Francis to bestow sainthood upon Junipero Serra, the founder of the brutal Indian mission system in California:
On May 2, the archdiocese of Los Angeles will host a daylong celebration at the main U.S. seminary in Rome. What’s the occasion for the “celebration?” The event will honor Junipero Serra, who was a Roman Catholic missionary, and, therefore, an invading and colonizing agent for the Catholic Church in Baja and Alta California in the 18th century. Serra worked on behalf of the Catholic Church’s desire to expand (“propagate”) the Christian empire (“imperii Christiani”). Pope Alexander VI, a man of his time, stated that imperial desire in his Inter Caetera edict of 1493, in relation to the part of the world which Columbus’s first voyage had brought to the attention of Western Christendom.

How has the Vatican responded to protests and sharp criticism from Indian people in California regarding Pope Francis’s announcement to declare Serra a saint? To accompany its acknowledgement of Serra’s use of “corporeal punishment” on the Indians of California as an “educational tool” of evangelism, the Vatican has said that Serra was “a man of his time.”

What the Vatican has not acknowledged is notable: The context of the “time” that Serra was “a man of” was a context expressed in numerous papal edicts of the fifteenth century issued by popes who were men of their time. That context is found in the Holy See’s directive to Portuguese Catholic monarchs to “invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue, all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery,” and “take away all their possessions and property.” (Dum diversas, 1452; Romanus Pontifex 1455). It would seem that, in the Vatican’s view, someone who did a great job carrying out the papacy’s divine directive to achieve those ends by propagating the Christian empire through imperial evangelism deserves to be sainted.

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: The Vatican’s Rhetorical Strategy: Serra Was a Man of His Time (Indian Country Today 4/28)

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