Junipero Serra: Canonizing a Symbol of Injustice

Junipero Serra

Father Junipero Serra’s statue in the United States capitol should stay “until the end of time,” according to a statement made by California Governor Jerry Brown last Sunday July 19th.

Serra considered his goal of converting the Indians to be just and holy, but his crusade resulted in the enslavement, torture, and death of tens of thousands.

A dismissal of facts and an underplaying of Serra’s role in the Church’s genocidal behavior are reasons why his bronze statue has remained in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall since 1931 as one of California’s permanent delegates. The Papacy is currently in the process of canonizing Serra.

Brown said in a statement in January that “we have to understand that saints, like everybody else, are not perfect,” and regards Serra as a “very courageous man and one of the innovators and pioneers of California.”

The Romero Institute strongly disagrees with Brown’s position.

Canonizing Serra constitutes a approval of the long-lasting genocide of the Spanish Catholic missions.

While Serra may have believed his actions to be righteous, he represents an archaic worldview accepting of treating peoples as subhuman by forcefully imposing values that simultaneously resulted in torture, slave labor and conditions ending with one in three babies dying before living for one year, and around twenty percent of adults dying per year.

Glorifying this behavior as praiseworthy is an egregious insult to the families and graves of the tens of thousands of Indians buried as a direct result of California’s mission system, which Serra largely oversaw.

UC Riverside historian Steven Hackel concluded that “California’s military leaders rarely shared [Serra’s] zeal, Indians often opposed his efforts, and ultimately the missions proved to be cauldrons of disease and discontent,” in his biography Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father.

Erecting missions in the New World wasn’t Serra’s crusade so much as the Catholic Church’s, Serra was merely a faithful servant of the Church and what he deemed to be God’s will. What approved and sought out this unbridled brutish exploration was the 1493 Papal Bull, referred to as the Doctrine of Discovery.

The Romero Institute has dedicated itself to seeing this Doctrine renounced, as it continues to be used as a moral and even legal authority for the abuse of indigenous peoples. Beginning in 1823, its citation resulted in the United States Supreme Court asserting that Native Americans “had no property rights but rather merely held a right of occupancy.”

Please sign our petition requesting Pope Francis renounce the 1493 Papal Bull, the Doctrine of Discovery:

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