Friday, October 9, 2015

On the Canonization of St. Junipero Serra

There were many things in the news last month when Pope Francis visited Cuba and America for the first time, and it was pretty tiresome keeping up with all the stories across secular and Catholic media alike. One story that was of interest was the canonization of the founder of several missions in North America, Junipero Serra. This marked the first time that an American saint would be canonized on American soil. However, there was some controversy surrounding Serra's canonization. Many people were asking the Pope not to go through with it, on account of Serra supposedly being responsible for the deaths of many Native Americans. There was an article that was making the rounds across social media, found HERE, detailing the reasons why Pope Francis should not move forward with the canonization. 

I was able to engage in a discussion with someone via Facebook regarding the subject. A good exchange ensued, which is posted below, as I argued in favor of Serra's conversation. Reading the article above, and the article my opponent posts in his first comment will help frame our discussion and put what we're saying into contexts. Another note, as you'll see towards the end of the discussion, a little known papal document by Pope Clement VII is mentioned regarding the conversion of the Native Americans. Look for a post on this subject to be up on the blog in the very near future, going into much more detail than I do here. As for the discussion, my words will be in blue, and the other person's in red:

Well, the author of this article had at least one thing right in his diatribe: Pope Francis is assuredly not the "radical pope" that the popular media would have us believe, as the Pope himself has stated he is "a son of the Church."

The title of the article itself is misleading, implying that Junipero Serra actually murdered and enslaved Native Americans, effectively putting him on the same level of the bloodthirsty conquistadors, or other Native Americans such as the Aztecs who massacred and enslaved neighboring tribes as part of their tributary empire before the visitors of the New World arrived on their shores. The author also seems to be ignorant of what the purpose of the missions were, as well as of when and how the population of the indigenous peoples plummeted.

On the contrary, the missions were established to protect the indigenous people of California from enslavement by conquistadors, Spanish soldiers, and ranchers who would dominate and oppress them. The goal of the missions were twofold: to convert the Native Americans to the Catholic faith and protect them from the groups I listed above. Also, many of the indigenous peoples, such as the Chumash, were mainly hunter-gatherers. The Franciscans that founded the missions alongside Serra taught these people to grow crops and raise livestock.

The missions came under control of the Mexican government, following the events of the Mexican War of Independence. The Native American population of California was somewhere around 225,000 before the colonists came. While the population was reduced a third during Spanish and Mexican rule (and that was due to primarily disease and not murder) it doesn’t even compare to what happened once America admitted California to the Union. Once the 21 missions that had been established were effectively in ruins, and the California gold rush happened, the remaining Native American population received a huge blow when 80% of them were killed in through 1870, leaving only 30,000 people left. The rub is that this wasn’t due mainly to disease has it had been under Spanish rule, but nearly half were murdered.

St. Junipero Serra
The comparison to Nazi Germany is a gross exaggeration. James Sandos, author of Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions says it best, refuting such a ridiculous comparison:

"Hitler and the Nazis intended to destroy the Jews of Europe and created secret places to achieve that end, ultimately destroying millions of people in a systematic program of labor exploitation and death camps. Spanish authorities and Franciscan missionaries, however, sought to bring Indians into a new Spanish society they intended to build on the California frontier and were distressed to see the very objects of their religious and political desire die in droves. From the standpoint of intention alone, there can be no valid comparison between Franciscans and Nazis… neither Spanish soldiers nor missionaries knew anything about the germ theory of disease, which was not widely accepted until late in the nineteenth century."

What I’ve noticed in this article, is the recurring theme and charge that Serra was directly responsible for all of the injustices carried out against the Native Americans in the mission system. There is nothing in any historical writings whatsoever that show that Serra ever committed any of the atrocities mentioned in the article, especially since he died in 1784 and the author continually makes references to events happening after his death and well into the 19th century. He was not a hateful man at all, and dropped everything to care for the people of his missions. In the same letter that the article quotes Serra talking about punishing the Indians, he later says, “We have all come here and remained here for the sole purpose of their well-being and salvation. And I believe everyone realizes we love them.” Now did these floggings and punishments happen? Yes. That doesn’t make it right, obviously, there are certainly better ways it could’ve been carried out. Serra himself noted in his letters that this system led to abuses and friars who were especially cruel should stop being so excessive. This shows that Serra was not perfect, and by being declared a saint, the Church isn’t saying he’s perfect, but he is someone who lived and strived for virtue, by attending to the needs of those who were most marginalized during his time, i.e. the Native Americans of California. 

Again, Serra was not some cruel overlord. He was not “complicit in, and responsible for, the eradication of entire cultures and civilizations”, as the article dubiously suggests. This was made apparent when he became one of the earliest champions against the death penalty, making moral and theological arguments against capital punishment many times. A good example of this happened when he wrote to the Viceroy of New Spain when a priest and good friend was killed by a group of Native Americans: “Let the murderer live so he can be saved, which is the purpose of our coming here and the reason for forgiving him.” source:

In truth, the author’s disgust seems to be aimed towards other friars and secular authorities and soldiers. Horrible things happened, that much is true… but the man who is being canonized, Blessed Junipero Serra, is not guilty of those crimes. For being imperfect and thinking flagellation was an appropriate punishment? Guilty as charged. But to suggest that he was a main cause of the slaughter and enslavement of Native Americans is patently false. As Pope Francis said in the same address cited at the beginning of the article during his trip to Bolivia:

“There was sin. There was sin, and in abundance, and for this we ask forgiveness. But…where there was sin, where there was abundant sin, grace abounded, through these men who defended the justice of the native peoples.”

Serra defended that justice, and that is why the Pope will canonize this priest in a few short days; for us to follow Serra’s example in helping the marginalized and oppressed with good faith, love and charity in our own daily lives.

Here's a Native American perspective for additional perspective -

Thank you for the additional link. After reading it, it’s apparent that Ms. Miranda makes many of the same mistakes as the author in the previous article you posted did. Ultimately, both authors of these pieces want a scapegoat for the decimation and slaughter of the Native Americans under Spanish and Mexican rule. That scapegoat is Junipero Serra, even though the historical record is clear that he never committed any of the atrocities that have been mentioned between these articles… especially since he died in 1784, and many of the horrible things that are cited took place in the 19th century, well after his death. The justly held anger towards such malevolent attacks would be more suited towards the secular Spanish authorities, soldiers, farmers, and wayward Franciscan friars who committed said malevolent actions.

In response to Miranda’s accusation that Serra “did not just bring us Christianity; he imposed it, he forced it, he violated us with it, giving us no choice in the matter,” it’s obvious that her motive isn’t to get to the bottom of what the historical record says, but to slander Serra, who did not impose, force or violate any person with Christianity. I am not discounting that it is conceivable that there were some overly-zealous priests who baptized by force. In fact, it’s highly likely… which is why those foul people are not being canonized. However, two things are very apparent once people look past the narrative (i.e., the Catholic Church is to be discredited) that Miranda and others are trying to spin: First, Serra was not responsible for any of these heinous acts. And secondly, the Church has always condemned the forced imposition of Christianity on all peoples.

In the first case, the method used on the missions to convert people on the missions was to be in line with Church teaching. As Father Pedro Font observed during the second settler expedition to Upper California in 1776:

“The method of which the fathers observe in the conversion is not to oblige anyone to become Christian, admitting only those who voluntarily offer themselves for baptism, and this they do in the following manner: …the fathers require that if they wish to be Christians they shall no longer go to the forest, but must live in the mission; and if they leave the Rancheria… they will go to seek them and will punish them. With this they begin to catechize the heathen who voluntarily come, teaching them to make the Sign of the Cross and other things necessary, and if they persevere in the catechism for two or three months and in the same frame of mind, when they are instructed they proceed to baptize them.” Source:

As we can see here, to force a baptism was not the norm, nor the goal. And to Miranda’s point about the native peoples having to give up their ancestral religions, such comes with the baptismal promise when one converts to Christianity. It’s one thing to totally extinguish the culture of a people, it is reprehensible. However, Serra made an effort to learn the Pame language, and even wrote a brief catechism in this native language. Although he admittedly had a hard time with the language, it didn’t stop him from trying: Source:

 To say that he (and the missions) is fully responsible for a loss of Native American culture is ridiculous, as the Chumash people and their culture “have not been erased”:

Decimated? Yes, and that is to be regretted and is tragic, but not wiped out, and surely not by Junipero Serra, especially as I mentioned before, he and the Franciscans had no idea of the effects of microscopic germs that cause disease in close quarters.

In the second case I mentioned, we can see the Church has always condemned the forced imposition of Christianity, and quite clearly, for instance in this early letter of Pope Gregory I, this quote from a letter to two Bishops in Gaul in the year 591 on forced conversions of the Jewish people:

"For it is necessary to gather those who are at odds with the Christian religion the unity of faith by meekness, by kindness, by admonishing, by persuading, lest these...should be repelled by threats and terrors. They ought, therefore, to come together to hear from you the Word of God in a kindly frame of mind, rather than stricken with dread, result of a harshness that goes beyond due limits."

Pope Paul III was also quite clear on how the native peoples of the New World should be treated in his 1537 papal bull Sublimus Deus:

“…the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved…

“…The said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by PREACHING the word of God and by the EXAMPLE OF GOOD AND HOLY LIVING.”

Serra followed the exhortation of these words; if other priests and religious did not, that is of no fault of Serra’s and he should not be held accountable for their transgressions and be labeled the scapegoat, especially since many of these crimes happened long after his death. In fact, as I mentioned before, he told his fellow Franciscans on a number of occasions that their treatment and punishment of the Native Americans were too harsh. This makes Miranda’s assumption that Serra did not “take a stand against inherently inhumane and unchristian acts against a people who were obviously vulnerable to diseases and technologies far different from their own”, completely contradictory to the information of the historical record that is readily available to anyone. This is why I can only laugh and shake my head when she accuses people of having an inability to do research. I’ve done mine, and the burden of proof to condemn Serra of these crimes is on her. Again, her anger is misplaced and her focus should be on the Spanish authorities and friars that did commit these crimes.

I also wish Miranda and other pundits, such as the first author cited, would stop accusing those who support Serra’s canonization of having one argument, and it being that “he was simply “a man of his times.” Obviously, he wasn’t in the fact that he was championing for those faced with the death penalty to be spared, as I mentioned in my first comment. Obviously he fought for the Native American’s rights, and sheltered them in his missions from the Spanish soldiers and farmers who would sexually abuse and rape women.

In addition, I lost track of how many red herrings Miranda threw out there in her article. Talking about the clergy sex abuse scandal and Pope John Paul II’s decision to change the discipline on the canonization of saints only obfuscates the real issue at hand and shows she has an animus towards the Church more so than she does any one person. I won’t spend any time on these attempts and slanderous potshots to the late pontiff that try to derail the main topic, but what is relevant is this: it’s irrelevant if the new “rules” for sainthood don’t require two miracles. It shows her complete lack of knowledge on the Canon Law and theology of the Catholic Church.

There’s nothing new about what Pope Francis is doing here; Junipero Serra is being canonized by “equivalent canonization”, which has been in effect since Pope Urban VIII introduced the process back in 1632, and can only be used when the beatified person (Blessed) has already been venerated for years:

Pope Francis already did this earlier in his pontificate with St. Peter Faber, and Pope Benedict XVI did this in his pontificate with St. Hildegard of Bingen. In addition, the office of the “devil’s advocate” was a relatively new implementation in the canonization process, as it had only been around 300 years before John Paul II’s pontificate, and we all know there were many saints canonized in the first millennium of Christianity. Miranda is also confused about Catholic theology in the sense that she’s focusing so much on how many miracles Junipero Serra needs to be canonized. She’d realize this is a moot point, as when the Church beatifies someone and declares them Blessed (as Blessed Junipero Serra was back in the 1988), the Church holds that said person is most definitely in heaven with the Church Triumphant, and is definitely able to intercede in prayer on one’s behalf to God. Getting hung up on miracles at this point seems unnecessary since such a person is able to be freely venerated already.

I do agree that “mission mythology” should not be allowed “to continue to exist”. Some people want to believe that the missions had no blemishes and there were no heinous acts committed there. That’s ridiculous because it did happen, and I’ll be the first to admit that. On the other end of the spectrum, some people (like the two authors of these pieces) completely look over the positive fruits of the missions and throw the baby out with the bathwater… the “baby” in this case being Serra. Let’s not allow the vile people who oppressed and harassed the Native Americans overshadow what good Serra did.

Before his beatification, a 1,200 page “positio” had to be submitted to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, a requirement to determine if Serra was worthy of sainthood. To then say the Church has done all this on a whim without taking into account history is laughable. Serra would not be canonized without good reason, and it’s apparent by reading his writings and his contemporary’s writings, both included in the positio. Miranda claims that there those within the Church which wish to “control the narrative” of Serra. I submit, that voices like her in the media are making their own narrative. This is apparent by a simple Google search, when all that pops up on Junipero Serra is “controversy” or “not worthy of sainthood”. There is a real narrative here, and it’s not so hard to find: Serra was not a perfect man. No saint was. However the virtues he portrayed in his life, especially his charity to the poor and marginalized, make him worthy of veneration by Catholics worldwide.

You were gracious enough to give me a perspective written by a descendant of the Chumash people, a person descended from those who lived with Serra in his missions; I would like to do the same.

Here is a perspective from a Native American (Purépecha) who supports Blessed Junipero Serra’s canonization:

Thanks, I also found the comment section interesting, speculating how much of an innocent bystander Serra might have been . Imagine how hard it would be if someone tried to "convert" you to some other strange religion. I'm sure they would have one heck of a time. But imagine that you were being pushed off of the place where you lived, your usual sources of food and water reshuffled and more difficult to get to, while the people trying to convert you had plenty, and would share, while still trying to convert you, maybe claiming that if you were "saved" and converted essential things might be more easily given. Having superior weaponry might also be a great inspiration for conversion, if you couldn't take it anymore. Imagine how your grandmother would react to someone trying to convince her to change her religion after all of these years, your Mom and Dad, family, friends, etc.

They would not be allowed to speak their own language or go to mass, say the rosary, etc. and would be punished if they did (there are so many books through the years that I have read dealing with this since I moved out here to a place where a large part of the population is Native American. Please, just google a list and dig in. Maybe start with Black Elk Speaks.). Imagine how your life and family would be broken as some forceful country and new religion "offered" to replace your catholic tradition, forcefully, with something you thought was actually spiritually inferior (Because some church document told missionaries that they shouldn't "force" Native People into Christianity sure doesn't mean that it didn't happen, and if it did, good people would surely stand up and defend these people, not with an occasional comment that they might be using too much force, but in a way that might have more of an effect.

Serra was somewhat powerful enough to do this don't you think.), and after you were treated this way and your life turned into a nightmare, you hear that the person in charge of the missionaries, the person who gave out the orders of the day, who contributed to making your life miserable was going to be honored as someone who has reached the highest level of spirituality and sainthood. I wonder how you would feel about that . The article in the DB is interesting, but definitely not the voice and perspective of the Native American community. Serra will probably be canonized, but I doubt that many Native Americans will be using Junipero Serra holy cards to mark chapters in their Bibles.

San Juan Capistrano Mission
I also agree the comment section had some interesting and valid thoughts. However, how do you gauge if Serra did "enough"? You do propose an interesting thought experiment. If someone tried to "convert" me to a strange religion, I would resist, as I'm sure the rest of our family would.

You then ask to imagine if I were being pushed off my home. Obviously, I'd be indignant, and pretty pissed of to say the least. But this begs the question: who's doing (or really, who had done) the pushing and shuffling? It wasn't Serra, and it wasn't the Franciscans. This came from the Spanish crown. Serra often fought with the authorities over their treatment of the natives. Pedro Fages, governor of Alta California, especially disliked Serra since the Franciscan priest complained again and again that the land Fages wanted to take over belonged to the Native Americans, and that he wanted Fages’ men to stop sexually abusing the women. Serra objected to and opposed the brutal force that both the soldiers and wayward clergy meted out. Serra also butted heads with Felipe de Neve, governor of Las Californias on several occasions. Neve wanted the Native Americans to assimilate completely; they didn’t need protection from the missions. Serra fought hard against this, to defend the Native Americans inherent rights and their dignity as human beings, wishing to ensure also that the women were not raped by the soldiers. This is why he often went over both of these men’s heads, addressing the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa. Bucareli was more sympathetic to Serra then the other two officials were.

And you’re kind of right on one point, even the missionaries themselves admitted the fact in their diaries that some natives would come to the missions through their mouths first, especially because their relatives already at the mission would tell them the food tasted better. You make it sound as if they didn’t have any food to begin with during Serra’s life, and were already starving. Even today, we see many churches offer food and entertainment as a way to open communication to those who haven’t accepted the faith yet. Even the church right by my house had their annual “Prairie Fest” this year, and in his homily, the priest talked about how they needed the best food and entertainment available (such as the world’s most famous Beatles cover band) in order to open the door to converts. Is this duplicitous? Or is it a way to start dialogue? Again, I am just as sure as you that forced conversions took place, but that doesn’t make it the rule, as evidenced in my previous post. But you seem to be implying the Franciscans took away “essential” things away from the Native Americans only to give them back under the guise of conversion. Perhaps some priests were guilty of that, but I would argue it was the Spanish authorities and soldiers to blame, and even if it were the priests, then Serra was not one of them. The same with superior weaponry. The Franciscans were a mendicant order. They did not have weapons, the Spanish soldiers did.

I will have to read some of the books you have listed. I have read some of the horror stories in my time, they are appalling. Again, if I were to imagine how my family and life would be broken with my Catholic tradition being forcefully replaced, I would resist. I would resist just as the Kumeyaay and Diegueno Native Americans did. The Diegueno’s were the people that killed Serra’s friend in a series of attacks at the San Diego missions. I don’t think I would react with the same level of violence as they did, however.

And you’re right, just because Pope Paul III’s papal bull said not to attack the natives, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t ignored. And people should’ve stood up to that. Which leads me back to my question at the beginning of this post: how do you determine if Serra did “enough”? Maybe you’re right; he could’ve done more. He could’ve talked even more than is already recorded to other friars and Spanish authorities. But, isn’t it always easier in hindsight? Serra wasn’t perfect, but isn’t it possible he truly thought he WAS doing enough? Perhaps he regretted not doing “enough”. Isn’t it possible that he, in fact, WAS doing quite a bit to help the Native Americans? I’ve posted more than a few examples of Serra defending the natives against both the clergy and the authorities. Again, maybe he could’ve done more as he was an imperfect man, but how one gauge’s what “enough” is, is beyond me. Yes, he cared deeply for the salvation of these peoples’ souls, because he had a great faith in God, and I commend him for that. Many secularists can’t wrap their heads around that, since it’s not something tangible. But he also stood up for the temporal well-being of these peoples, often in the face of great opposition, and I commend him for that as well. He had not “contributed to making [their] life miserable”; again, this is placing all the blame squarely on him, and that is unfair. He founded nine missions in 13 years; quite simply, he couldn’t be everywhere at once. Abuses occurred, most after his death, and they should not have occurred. These abuses and atrocities were not what Serra set out to do. There is no evidence that he committed any of the atrocities that he is accused of. So is his only crime not doing “enough”, whatever that is defined as in the subjective opinion of some people?

That’s why I can’t take part in your hypothetical anymore, because after reading the facts, the hypothetical you presented does not accurately parallel to what took place on the missions. I see it as more a caricature, and in short, I would reject and resist such a person and system that the caricature presents. The forced conversions prove one thing: man has free will. After these so-called Christians were told NOT to forcefully convert the Natives, they disobeyed, and exercised their free will, and by doing that, they in turn took away the free will of many people. That is reprehensible. However, this has been going on in Christianity since the 1st century A.D.

As Paul said to the Galatians, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself." These wayward priests did NOT serve other in love, and indulged an evil nature. If people weren't going to listen to Paul III, then they surely weren't going to listen to Paul the Apostle. I don't know what your hypothetical religion believes in, but my faith speaks very strongly about how to treat others. Men have the option to listen, or not listen. Some men did not, and do not listen, to the command, "love your neighbor as yourself". Serra, on the other hand, did listen to this command.

I believe it’s unfair to say the DB article is not the voice of the Native American perspective; Mr. Villanueva is of Chumash ancestry, and therefore has a voice. There are many other Native Americans who share his thoughts, including the many who are travelling to Washington D.C. for Serra’s canonization next week. Perhaps it’s not the majority, but even a sizable minority’s opinion counts. Some Native Americans may disagree with Villanueva’s assessment and opinion, but to say that Miranda and others that share her opinion are THE voice and perspective of the Native American community is completely false.

"Perhaps some priests were guilty...and even if it were the priests, Serra was not one of them". Well, was he in charge of them or not? In the current sex scandal the church is dealing with (I think of an old woman putting her dollar in the offering basket to help pay legal fees for wayward priests), why are the Bishops and church administrators under fire, and being criminally charged for the mess-ups of their priests within their diocese? Because they are, and should be, held accountable, that they allowed such things to happen under their watch. Right? The thing about weaponry that the Spanish soldiers had, when you have such a force patrolling the stolen and occupied land of your ancestors, and all of the soldiers go to church on Sunday to hear Father Serra say mass (as they should, massive murders as they were), as a member of the victimized group of Native People, wouldn't you think they might be related in a similar strategy? Serra tells you to get to work, as a Spanish soldier sits on a nearby horse with a loaded gun. Could there have been a little intimidation that the priests could have played off to get what they wanted out of the Native People??

You say that you feel that forced conversions took place, and that is the thing. These people were having their land and way of life taken from them by force, by both the soldiers and the church, and I think that if Serra were in fact a saint, yes, he should have done more. Even if he weren't a saint. Should the Bishops have done more in preventing the priestly molestations of parish children? Yes. Not difficult to wrap my head around. Maybe the church was just a part of the Spanish strategy to psychologically destabilize the indigenous population by taking away their own religion, customs, language, etc., and Serra was just a pawn that they pushed around.

(An interesting side to this, I was showing slides in my class last week, and showed the work of some Latin American photographers. In one of the photos was an odd creature's head sticking out of the foundation of a large cathedral in Cuzco, and it really had an interesting surrealistic effect. One of my students asked what it was, and I told them that it was the remains of an ancient Inca sacred site that the Catholic missionaries tore down, and then built their own big cathedral right on top of it. They didn't build a governmental building on top of the sacred site, but a church, to symbolically show the people that their past way of life was over, and that they, the Catholic Church was now in charge. We also have in our library on campus, a large wall hanging from a historic culture in southern Peru. There are knots tied at different levels in strips that hang from a cross beam. It is an ancient form of writing called "Quipi". No one knows how to translate it anymore, as that group of indigenous people were forbidden by the Spanish missionaries, to use their language, and, as so often happened, any significant remains of that and other, so called "less developed"cultures were burned and destroyed.)

One other thing to think about, as you read and post accounts from Spaniards during those years in the 18th century, you generally are getting a limited account of what happened, from the Spanish perspective, as the Native People had only a oral history. They didn't have a written language, and so the history from that time is generally over-slanted to favor how the Spanish invasion looked, and individuals keeping journals have tendencies to make themselves look a whole lot better than they might have been.

You ask if Serra was in charge or not. The answer is yes and no, depending on what capacity you speak of. He was appointed President of the missions, but this was late in his life, and he continually was on the move from mission to mission. In another sense, he was not in charge due to the hierarchical  nature of the Church; the Bishop of Baja California or Mexico was in charge. And he was also not in charge of what took place on the missions due to the nature of the Spanish crown. As I said before, he was often fighting for the rights of the Native Americans when no one else would in front of the Spanish government, going as far as to publish his 32 article Representación in 1773 (after he founded several missions), where he insisted that corrupt commanders and soldiers be deposed and entrust the care of the missions to the Church and not the Spanish crown and colonial authorities.

There is a parallel with the sex abuse scandal as you mention; the higher ups were guilty for letting such horrible and disgusting things happen. I don’t wish to spend much time on the clergy abuse as the topic at hand is whether Serra is a monster or not. We can discuss that at another time if you want. However, in the case of the bishops involved in the cover up of abuse, many were absolutely complicit in wrongdoings such as shuffling known abusers to other parishes and covering up documentation that proved it. I mentioned before, Serra did indeed speak out against abuses that were happening to the natives at the hands of both soldiers and priests. He could have done more perhaps to stop the excesses of corporal punishment, but he was never complicit in taking away necessities from the Indians, and then dangling what was stolen in front of them, ready to hand over if they would be baptized. He was never complicit in the pillaging, diseases, rapes, and other abuses that occurred “under his watch”. He was never complicit in, or calculated, genocide. It was never totally under his watch in the first place. Once again, you make him out to be the scapegoat for things he had no control over. Remember, when Serra and the other Franciscans came to the missions in Baja California, the Jesuits had already been expelled by the Viceroy of New Spain, and the missions were placed under colonial rule instead of by the Church. Serra fought hard to take charge from who he saw as a true aggressor, the Spanish crown.

This is why you’re example of a soldier standing next to Serra with a gun doesn’t hold water… he didn’t want them there in the first place! He saw that very thing that you find an injustice, to also be an injustice! The examples abound of Serra standing up to these despicable soldiers, and his writings show a genuine, paternal love for the Native Americans. If you look over his numerous writings, you’ll be hard pressed to find him bad-mouthing these natives as nearly all his contemporaries did, using words such as “barbarians” or “savages”. Serra saw them as “gentiles”, simply meaning, those who had not yet accepted Christ, and realized they were all “children of God.” I have already admitted more than once that “these [native] people were having their land and way of life taken from them by force, by… the soldiers”.

I am NOT here to paint a rosy, totally pious picture of the missions. That would be whitewashing everything and the atrocities that happened there, not to mention false. I’m also not here to completely denigrate the missions and whitewash everything accomplished there with a negative paint brush. In the case of Serra, there’s a middle ground here in the historical record. At the risk of sounding repetitious, Serra is being canonized by the Church not because he exhibited perfection during his tenure at the missions, but because he lived a holy life. Otherwise, a whole swath of Christian saints wouldn’t have been called so. It is your opinion that he should’ve done more; it’s my opinion that that is very hard to quantify, especially with the evidence that he tried so very hard to stop injustices throughout his entire life. You also say the Church, in addition to the soldiers, took the land by force, but that is false as seen by what the Church actually taught and still teaches in my previous posts. Certain men, including priests, may have done so of their own volition, but this was never decreed, wanted, or done by the institutional Church itself. Their views on the matter, even in the colonial era, were clear.

Your point on oral tradition of the Native Americans is a good one. Others would discount it out of hand since it’s not a scholarly source. I do not, as I’m sure you know the Catholic Church has a rich oral Tradition as well, and the written record shouldn’t be the only way we judge history. However, I won’t dismiss, out of hand, primary sources. There’s always the potential for subjective contamination, yes, but the same can be said for an oral tradition. What it comes down to, is what or who do you trust? We could look at all history, written or not, with the same, doubting lens. Again, I’m not denying that the atrocities that happened to the natives, that were passed down through oral tradition, didn’t happen. But the question at hand is whether or not Serra was responsible for all of this evil that was perpetuated. I still contend he is being blamed for things he never did, and never intended to happen. He was not a completely innocent bystander, but to call him another Hitler, or Satan, as this original article posted did, is ridiculous and slanderous. Chief Cerda’s tradition maintains that Serra and other missionaries protected their native peoples and ancestors from genocide. Are Cerda, Villanueva, and other Native Americans who recognize Serra’s charity, in fact, liars? I admitted that the examples you’ve brought up are true; they reflect the horrible things that happened, but these horrible things were not at the hands of Serra. Can’t both be right as different people’s experienced different things? The crux of the matter is this: after looking at the Spanish perspective, the Native American perspective, and the historical perspective, the evidence points to said atrocities happening due to the inhumanity of soldiers, failed priests, and Spanish authorities; not from Serra himself.

When you say that Serra "was never complicit in taking away necessities from Indians and then dangling what was stolen in front of them, ready to hand it over if baptized" I wonder how you would know that he "never" did such things. Hopefully, not through some journal that he wrote himself, or from other books written by church officials or Spaniards who might have needed to do damage control on the genocide that they were involved in. Native people have remembered and passed down stories through the years and have associated Junipero Serra with the genocide of their people. When listening to or reading the stories of victims of abuse, I generally give them more of my attention and compassion than the criminal abusers, as I am sure you would too. As their culture and way of life was being destroyed both physically by the soldiers and psychologically by the church, the aggressors would go to mass on Sunday to hear Junipero Serra say mass, give sermons, hear confessions. You claim that he "fought hard" to protect the Indians, well, I'm wondering what penance he gave out to these genocidal maniacs. Two Hail Marys, two Our Fathers, and a good Act of Contrition? What was he even doing there if he had such great concern for the Native People? 

Obviously what he was doing didn't do much to help them during this genocide of a beautiful community of human beings. He was a person who had a degree of power and I fail to see that he used it in any significant way. His main objective seemed to be to convert the Native People to what he believed to be the one true religion, while the Native People already had what they believed to be the one true religion. How he went about it, along with his association with the Spanish soldiers, who most definitely would step in at any time if there was any kind of problem with the Native People. What did Serra think his mission was?

If it was conversion, and there was resistance, then what? Did he happen to maybe read a papal announcement from Pope Clement VII on May 8th of 1529 that stated "We trust that, as long as you are on earth, you will compel and with all zeal cause the barbarian nations to come to the knowledge of God, the maker and founder of all things, not only by edicts and admonitions, but also by force and arms, if needful, in order that their souls may partake of the heavenly kingdom." Maybe Clement and the other priests, padres, and missionaries, who physically and psychologically tortured the Native people thought they were doing god's work, and that all of their suffering would allow them, these Native People, to partake in the great heavenly kingdom of the Catholic church. Oh, how spiritually advanced, the Native Americans must have thought those men of god were. You can say that they were "wayward priests", or not to be thought of as real members of the church because real members wouldn't do such things, which is nicely convenient. Anything bad that representatives of the church did was done by automatically non members, and anything good, the church can take credit for.

I'd like to incorporate this into my own life somehow. It seems fool proof. I have recently been playing an old accordion that someone gave me, which they found at a local flea market. I've had my fill of playing "Lady of Spain", with all the rhythmical jiggles that go along with that wonderful tune, but now I'm working on "Julida Polka". Incorporating this new criminally free idea, I am writing up a dictate that claims that I only want to play a "good" rendition of "Julida Polka". At my next performance, I am just going to play a bunch of notes that will be somewhere around a recognizable melody related to "Julida Polka". If anyone complains, I will simply produce my dictate that states "only the notes that fall in line, and produce a good rendition of "Julida Polka" should have been listened to, and not all of the other notes that I automatically disassociate myself with". I can't wait. I think I'm going to be famous.

Oil painting of St. Junipero Serra
You say: “I wonder how you would know that he ‘never’ did such things.” I can turn this right back around at you; “How would you know Serra “definitively” did such things.” I could ask you if you discovered this through a book written by a Native American… but I won’t ask that because there is no evidence that Serra committed the atrocities that are being ascribed to him. Not doing enough, that’s a valid argument. But to accuse one person of genocide is slanderous, especially with no evidence. And if I can’t use primary sources as evidence (primary sources that you cannot prove were patently false from bias, and even then, instead of proving, you can only speculate) then you shouldn’t be able to either. With this thought process, I can claim that the Native Americans despised the colonists, and when retelling stories about them, they resorted to hyperbole and subjective bias. Your argument to completely dismiss any colonial, primary sources (which is ridiculous given the thousands of documents from this time period, including Serra’s tediously and at times boringly kept journal… to dismiss ALL of these as seems to be suggested just because of the writer’s country of origin is unfair) cuts both ways.

…However, I will not say that the Native Americans resorted to hyperbole; that’s a pretty big assumption I have no evidence for so I won’t make that claim. I believe the stories of these suffering peoples. I believe the horrible things that are often described actually happened. As you mentioned, I certainly do give more of my compassion to the victims of abuse than the abusers. I also don’t condone false attacks on one’s character. I do not believe, as provided by the contemporary evidence both written down and told through oral tradition (such as Chief Cerda’s), that Serra is guilty of destroying the California Indians and their culture; instead he assisted the natives to the best of his ability. I noticed you said, “Native people… have associated Junipero Serra with the genocide of their people.” The key word here is “ASSOCIATED”. We’re in agreement here; many people ASSOCIATE Serra with the despicable acts committed by Spanish colonists. But isn’t warranted because he did not commit genocide. He did not plan their demise as Hitler systematically did with the Jews, or how the Ottoman Empire planned in detail how to rid themselves of minorities in the Armenian genocide. Serra was the antithesis of such men.

Actually, I highly doubt he or any other priest was giving out the penance you mentioned; it was probably a form of public penance, fasting, or some other deprivation of creature comforts. Serra admonished both soldiers and other priests for being ruthless, as I’ve stated and shown already. If you’re personal barometer tells you Serra didn’t use what power he had in a significant way, so be it. Apparently the narrative is that any recorded good he did do didn’t happen and was completely fabricated, including the accounts of Native Americans affirming said good actions.

You are correct and I am in agreement, Serra’s main objective was to convert the Native Americans (really, all people he came across) to what he believed to be the one, true faith. Serra most definitely saw his mission to bring Christ and his saving grace to all those who didn’t know them. If there was resistance, he did not baptize. Again, we saw this happen with the Diegueno people, and others, and it did lead to conflict, but not always. A conflict that Serra had no part in, and no authority over as he wasn’t a military commander. All he could do was petition the government to stop, which he did, and did often.

I’m going to be getting more into theology here in just a moment, because I think the way this conversation is headed necessitates it. I highly doubt Serra read Clement VII’s letter, seeing as this wasn’t an encyclical and was addressed to Emperor Charles V of Spain. If you’re putting this on the same level of Paul III’s Sublimus Dei, your seeming proof of contradiction goes away. This is showing a deficiency of familiarity with the Catholic’s theological pronouncement on the Extraordinary Magisterium and the Ordinary Magisterium, as opposed to what is not considered Church teaching. Sublimus Dei is an encyclical, which is the Pope exercising his teaching authority as the Roman Pontiff. Intra Arcana, as Clement VII’s letter appears to be called, is a political document directed to one person, Charles V. The title of the book that I found this text in was called “Privileges of Nomination”, which is basically the naming of people to offices.

Reading more of the text in context, we see that Clement VII is nominating the emperor to take charge as his country’s ruler by extending the Catholic faith in new lands Spain has colonized. This is a grant of permissions and privileges to a sole person (Emperor Charles V) for the purpose of promoting missionary work. Was Clement VII prudent in his choice of asking to compel such knowledge of God? Absolutely not. This wouldn’t be charitable at all. A lot of people think the Roman Pontiff’s are infallible, when really they mean to say the Pope is impeccable. The Pope is not impeccable.  And only “when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, [the Pope] defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church”, is the Pope infallible.  This was not in the exercise of Clement VII’s office of teacher. This letter is not a doctrine concerning faith or morals. This proves Clement VII is a sinful man who can’t use just prudence on how to bring people to Christ in accordance with the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church. And he’s not the first “bad pope”, as I’m sure you’re aware. Alexander VI, Benedict IX, and Leo X, among others, were horrible men that proved even the Vicar of Christ wasn’t impeccable or free from sin, and proved they had the free will to say emphatically “NO” to what Christ’s Gospel message truly was. I believe it was Pope Francis that recently said “The Church is a hospital for sinners” This means there are sinners, extremely grievous sinners too, within the Church. Perhaps some of these priests that tortured the Indians did think they were doing God’s work. But then, many people, even today think the same, even though what they are doing is objectively wrong and against Catholic teaching. Then and now, those people were wrong, and I would say guilty of scandal, a sin and evil according to Catholic doctrine.

Here you said, “You can say that they were ‘wayward priests’, or not to be thought of as real members of the church because real members wouldn't do such things, which is nicely convenient. Anything bad that representatives of the church did was done by automatically non members, and anything good, the church can take credit for.” Actually, I can’t say that. I can’t say that wayward priests or evil Popes aren’t real members of the Church because that’s absolutely false, and was not what I said or was suggesting at all. Through their common baptism, they ARE members of the Church. The Bride of Christ (as the Church calls itself, as Christ is seen as the Bridegroom) contains all who are baptized. Catholic theology holds that baptism leaves an indelible mark on the person’s soul. No sin can remove that, or remove a person from the Church (the Bride of Christ) for that matter.

Anything bad that representatives of the Church did was done by members of said Church. Those evil actions reflect the free will that each person has to reject Christ and the doctrines and teachings of the Church revealed to his vicars through the Holy Spirit. This is what Catholic theology teaches. Anything good that representatives of the Church did also reflects the free will of each of those persons; it reflects that their will was united to the will of Christ, and assented to the teachings he left his Church, therefore the Church should celebrate such displays of virtue. It’s not so much “taking credit for” than it is what is expected of each and every Catholic Christian. However, as Christians believe, this is hard since Catholic teaching (and many other Christian theologies) holds that man suffers from concupiscence, that is the tendency to engage in sinful or evil behavior.

I hope you wouldn’t incorporate such an erroneous idea of how the Church treats evil people, as you suggested, into your daily life. To take your analogy one step further, you may not have many people at your accordion concerts if that’s the case. Someone may say after your performance, “That was a horrible performance of the ‘Julida Polka’. You’ve completely twisted it into a horrible cover version (kinda like Billy Cosby’s rendition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band). I’ve heard Mr. Smith down at the Main Street Theater give a much better performance, and it was as close to perfect as you could be. I won’t be taking cues from you, kind sir, when learning to play this song. I’ll learn from someone else who has a better grasp on how the song is to truly be played.”

In the same way, this can be said of the Church. Those “bad notes” that are played are still my brothers and sisters in Christ, but they do not speak for what my Church truly teaches. They didn’t play the song well; they didn’t live out the faith of the Church well. The “good notes” are living up to the perfection that is the true “Julida Polka”; the way it was meant to be played as prescribed by the original songwriter… or in other words, these are my brothers and sisters in Christ that are living up to the perfection that is the true Church… the way it was meant to be lived as prescribed by the Divine Author.

Nave and altar of San Buenaventura Mission
...Now, just for the record, you have me quoted as saying that "Serra "definitely" did such things" to parallel my quoting you as saying that he "never" did such things, and I think if you look back you'll see that I never said "definitely", where as you definitely did say "never", which was why I was puzzled, as to what source could have been such a close and personal documentation of everything Serra did. I have been saying that Serra was a person in charge of the missions during a period of genocide (there is controversy about who was responsible for the physical and psychological abuse of these people). Serra was there, and I have been wondering what his role and involvement was while all of this was going on. 

There have been many things written, and they seem to paint very different pictures of what happened, and who Junipero Serra was. I think where we agree is that bad elements in the Spanish army and in the mission system nearly wiped out an entire group of Native People. We agree. There is controversy as to whether or not Junipero Serra had anything to do with this. We agree that there is controversy. The ABUSED group of Native People and their current generation of tribal members claim that he did (there are plenty of tribal letters written to the Pope recently. This one was published yesterday 

The NON-ABUSED group of Spaniards say he didn't have anything to do with any of the abuses that did happen to the Native People during this time. I am fine with leaving it at that, and let people research it as extensively as they need or want from that point. I lean toward the accounts of the ABUSED group of Native People. You lean toward the accounts of the NON-ABUSED Spanish People. I think that we can leave it there.

I appreciate the discussion... I apologize for putting words in your mouth; you never said Serra “definitely” did detestable things to the Native Americans. But I do want to post my quote from earlier: “…even though the HISTORICAL RECORD is clear that [Serra] never committed any of the atrocities that have been mentioned between these articles…” No one alive today can definitively, 100% know that Serra NEVER committed the crimes listed in your two articles. However, I said specifically that the historical record shows no proof of Serra personally committing these crimes. I think we can both agree that nowhere, does anyone have written, substantial proof from the annals of history and primary sources that Serra himself complicity did these things. 

The only addendum I’ll make to your statement is that I lean toward the account of the non-abused Spanish people AND those (admittedly, seemingly in the minority) Native Americans who I’ve quoted, and read elsewhere, as benefiting from Serra and his missions. 

“I think where we agree is that bad elements in the Spanish army and in the mission system nearly wiped out an entire group of Native People.” Yes, we are in agreement. And we are both in agreement that there is controversy. I’m fine leaving it here. I learned a lot through this discussion, and I hope we both find benefit in it.

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