San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileono is a controversial figure in his hometown. Now he has taken to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to implore Governor Gavin Newsom to veto legislation which, if it becomes law, would permanently remove the statue of Father Junipero Serra from the State Capitol.
Father Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 25 September 1988 in Vatican City. Amid denunciations from Native American tribes who accused Serra of presiding over a brutal colonial subjugation, Pope Francis canonized Serra on 23 September 2015 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., during his first visit to the United States. Serra’s missionary efforts earned him the title of “Apostle of California”.
Both before and after his canonization, Serra’s reputation and missionary work during the Spanish occupation have been condemned by critics, who cite alleged mandatory conversions to Catholicism, followed by abuse of the Native American converts.
Excerpted from San Francisco Chronicle 9.13.2021
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone appealed to Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop a bill that allows a statue of Father Junipero Serra to be permanently removed from the state Capitol grounds in Sacramento.
The statue of the founder of California’s mission system was removed by protesters in July 2020 and has been in storage ever since.
Last month, the state Legislature passed a bill to replace the statue with a monument to Sacramento-area Native American tribes. The bill, approved by the Senate on a 28-2 vote, now awaits Newsom’s signature.
“Father Serra was in fact the founder of California and in his work here educating and evangelizing the native population did what he could to protect them and educate them,” Cordileone told The Chronicle Monday in a phone call. “That statue is at the state Capitol which is the most appropriate place for Father Serra to be honored.”
In an opinion article published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Cordileone and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez implored the governor not to sign the bill.
The piece described Serra as “a complex character, but he defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.”
It also quoted a passage from the Assembly’s version of the bill written by Assembly Member James Ramos, D-Highland (San Bernadino County), the first Native American elected to the legislature. “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra,” it read.
Reached Monday at his district office in San Bernadino County, Ramos described the op-ed as “a paternal approach to telling Indian people, ‘Let me tell you your own history.’ The archbishop is trying to paint a picture that has been romanticized in the state. What we need is a true perspective of what happened to the California Indian people during the missionary era. Even the pope apologized in 2015 for the colonization of Native Americans.”