Cordileone had in late October 2020 asked the Marin County district attorney to prosecute those arrested after the riot at a mission church to the "full extent of the law." He also seconded the San Rafael Police Department's request that the six individuals be charged with vandalism in a house of worship, a hate crime.
"If the perpetrators of this crime are not brought to justice, small mobs will be able to decide what religious symbols all people of faith may display on their own property to further their faith, and they will continue to inflict considerable spiritual suffering on ordinary Catholic people who would see our sacred spaces as unprotected by law," he wrote to Frugoli at the time.
In contrast, some activists in California continue to call for the charges against the five assailants to be dropped, and repeating claims that Serra facilitated, or at least represents, the destruction of native California.
An online petition demanding that the district attorney drop the charges, anonymously posted by a group calling itself Decolonizers Defense, has garnered nearly 77,000 signatures as of Monday morning.
"While monuments to racism and violence are being removed across the state, the city of San Rafael is refusing to recognize the harms perpetrated against Indigenous people by Serra and instead has decided to file felony charges against five of the fifty demonstrators," the petition reads.
During a recent online press conference hosted by the Anti-Police Terror Project, a San Francsico activist group, an indigenous leader defended the assailants' actions and repeated charges that Serra himself was racist and participated in genocide.
Corrina Gould, tribal spokesperson for the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, called the Catholic Church a "worldwide epidemic of colonization and genocide" and demanded the charges against the assailants be dropped in favor of "a different solution."
"Who needs to be in court right now is the Catholic Church. They need to be held accountable for the horrific crimes they have created around the world," she stated, and denounced Cordileone for his opposition to "gay rights" as well as his advocacy for reopening churches amid the pandemic.
A lawyer for three of the assailants, Hasmik Geghamyan, said at the press conference that Frugoli's charges represented an effort to "target and harm dynamic activists who provide so much support, healing, and justice in their communities."
CNA contacted Geghamyan and James Burch, Policy Director for the Anti Police-Terror Project, but did not receive responses by press time.
Pope Francis canonized Serra in 2015 during a visit to the United States.
(Story continues below)
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Statues of Serra in 2020 became focal points for protests and demonstrations across California, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California's colonial past. Nationally, rioters have targeted Catholic churches and statues of Christ and Mary.
During the eighteenth century, Serra founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California, and many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities.
While many Native peoples did suffer horrific abuse, an archaeologist told CNA last year that activists tend to conflate the abuses the Natives suffered long after Serra's death with the period when Serra was alive and building the missions.
Serra's defenders say that in his lifetime he was actually an advocate for native people, at one point drafting a 33-point "bill of rights" for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements, and walking from California to Mexico City to present it to the Spanish viceroy.
Cordileone noted these historical facts about Serra in his February 2021 letter.
"Junípero Serra lived a life of sacrificial devotion to the poor, the weak and the marginalized in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi. To Catholics, that means that he is a great saint. It is for good reason that Pope Francis canonized him on American soil in 2015," he wrote.