Catholic League president Bill Donohue has denounced the misguided destruction of statues of Saint Junipero Serra, the “apostle of California.”
“Smashing statues of American icons is all the rage among urban barbarians,” Dr. Donohue states. “Ignorant of history, they are destroying statues of those who were among the most enlightened persons of their time,” which includes the 18th-century missionary Father Junipero Serra.
Protesters tore down a statue of Junipero Serra in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on June 19 and the following day toppled another statue of Serra at Placita Olvera in Los Angeles.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference (USCCB), has held up Father Junipero for “his compassion and his effort to establish rights for Indians and women,” Donohue notes, and the priest was canonized a saint by Pope Francis in 2015.
The vandals toppling statues do not know their history, Donohue insists, or they would not be trying to erase the memory of distinguished persons who played a pivotal role in the American story.
“Serra got along well with the Indians,” Donohue observes, and his goal, like that of the Franciscan missionaries whom he led, “was not to conquer the Indians—it was to make them good Christians.”
“The missionaries granted the Indians rights and respected their human dignity, quite unlike the condition of black slaves,” Donohue adds. “The Indians appreciated their efforts, drawing a distinction between the missionaries and the Spanish crown: the former treated the natives with justice; the latter did not.”
Setting the record straight, Donohue notes that the missionaries “did not eradicate Indian culture” but “learned the native language of the Indians and employed Indians as teachers.”
The missionaries also taught the Indians how to be masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, and painters, he states, and women were taught spinning, knitting, and sewing.
The Franciscan missionaries established 21 missions up and down California, nine of them under the tenure of Serra, who personally founded six missions, Donohue observes. Serra himself baptized more than 6,000 Indians and confirmed over 5,000 and some 100,000 were baptized overall during the mission period.
“If the truth were told about Saint Serra, he would be heralded as a friend of the Indians, not as their enemy,” Donohue concludes. “But truth matters little to those whose hearts are full of hatred and whose minds are closed to reality.”