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SACRAMENTO, California, June 23, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The bishops of California have issued a carefully worded statement on June 22 expressing their disapproval of the tearing down of several statues of St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.
The bishops failed to condemn tearing down the statue of a Catholic saint who made heroic sacrifices to advance the welfare of the indigenous people of California. They only asked that for this process of tearing down statues is “to be truly effective as a remedy for racism, it must discern carefully the entire contribution that the historical figure in question made to American life, especially in advancing the rights of marginalized peoples.”
In other words, as long as this criterion is met, tearing down a statue, and thus destroying public or private property, could be justified, according to the bishops of California, which includes the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.
The bishops did not distinguish between the mob destruction of a statue and its removal after a political debate, where both sides make their case, and elected officials then make a decision.
Regarding the statues of St. Junipero Serra, “protesters have failed that test” of discerning “carefully the entire contribution that the historical figure in question made to American life,” the bishops pointed out.
In recent days, rioters have pulled down and desecrated statues of St. Junipero Serra in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, after local authorities in Los Angeles approved the removal of another of his statues outside Ventura City Hall.
Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere, along with representatives from the Barbareño/Venureño Band of Mission Indians and Father Tom Elewaut, a Catholic priest based at the San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura, had issued a joint statement agreeing to take down the statue of Serra outside Ventura City Hall and have it “moved to a more appropriate non-public location.”
On Saturday, 100 people reportedly helped to topple a statue of the missionary saint with ropes on Olvera Street in Los Angeles. In a video of the incident, one participant can be heard saying “this is for our ancestors” as the statue came crashing down.
Natives just tore down the statue of Junipero Serra at Placita Olvera in solidarity with #BLMprotest #antiracism #antislavery pic.twitter.com/8ZDdv7vej7
— L.A. TACO (@LATACO) June 20, 2020
In Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, activists pulled down another statue of St. Junipero Serra. A video of the incident shows those in attendance cheering as the statue is toppled. One person can be seen hitting the statue with their fists and another person hitting it with a skateboard once it has fallen to the ground.
Activists just toppled the Junipero Serra statue in Golden Gate Park here in San Francisco
Now they’re onto Francis Scott Key, slave owner and writer of the Star Spangled Banner pic.twitter.com/Ykv0hFMZvK
— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 20, 2020
The careful statement of the California bishops was praised by Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop for Los Angeles.
“Friends, I am very grateful to share this statement of the Bishops of California regarding the removal and destruction of statues of St. Junipero Serra,” Barron tweeted. “I have been advocating for this statement for the last several days and encourage you to share it with others.”
Friends, I am very grateful to share this statement of the Bishops of California regarding the removal and destruction of statues of St. Junipero Serra. I have been advocating for this statement for the last several days and encourage you to share it with others. pic.twitter.com/aMMDLE5uxX
— Bishop Robert Barron (@BishopBarron) June 22, 2020
The bishops’ statement referred to another statement from June 20, made by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.
He asked, “What is happening to our society?”
“A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism,” Cordileone continued, spelling out what happened during many of the protests.
Tearing down the statue of Junipero Serra “was mob rule,” the archbishop said, “a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country.”
“Our dear city bears the name of one of history’s most iconic figures of peace and goodwill: St. Francis of Assisi,” Cordileone explained. “For the past 800 years, the various Franciscan orders of brothers, sisters and priests that trace their inspiration back to him have been exemplary of not only serving, but identifying with, the poor and downtrodden and giving them their rightful dignity as children of God. St. Junipero Serra is no exception.”
The Archbishop of San Francisco went on to briefly recount the saint’s achievement in his life. This section was later quoted by the statement of the California bishops.
“St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers,” Cordileone wrote. “Even with his infirmed leg which caused him such pain, he walked all the way to Mexico City to obtain special faculties of governance from the Viceroy of Spain in order to discipline the military who were abusing the Indians. And then he walked back to California.”
“And lest there be any doubt, we have a physical reminder to this day: everywhere there is a presidio (soldiers’ barracks) associated with a mission in the chain of 21 missions that he founded, the presidio is miles away from the mission itself and the school,” he pointed out.
“St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts.”
Msgr. Francis Weber, a former archivist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and author of several works on St. Junipero Serra, said in 2019, “Serra is one of the great heroes of California, and a great exemplar for young people. He was an outstanding person.”
“The Native Americans had no formal education, and the missionaries’ idea was to bring them to the missions, [introduce them to] agriculture and raise cattle and other livestock,” Weber said.
He emphasized that the saint did not mistreat any native Americans. “There’s no single recorded example in the official documentation of the period that Serra mistreated the Native Americans … in fact, he walked all the way to Mexico City to get a bill of rights issued for them. He was a great man all around.”
The memory of St. Junipero Serra has been under attack for years now.
In 2015, two state legislatures in California proposed to remove his statue from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and replace it with that of homosexual astronaut Sally Ride.
In 2017, two statues of St. Junipero Serra in California were vandalized. One was beheaded, the other had the word “murder” written on it.
Archbishop Cordileone admitted that “historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed.”
At the same time, “just as historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden, neither can they be righted by re-writing the history. Anger against injustice can be a healthy response when it is that righteous indignation which moves a society forward. But as Christ himself teaches, and St. Francis modeled, love and not rage is the only answer.”
LifeSiteNews has launched a petition urging the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops “to issue a statement rebuking the wanton destruction of statues of Catholic cultural and religious saints and heroes.”
The petition has been signed by more than 12,000 people so far. Readers may click here to support the petition.