When vandals knocked down the Serra statue at the capitol grounds, Bishop Jaime Soto acknowledged the suffering of indigenous people under Spanish colonialism and later “the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent State of California.”
“Yet, it is also true that while Fr. Serra worked under this colonial system, he denounced its evils and worked to protect the dignity of native peoples,” he said in July 2020.
If Newsom signs A.B. 338, it would remove the legal statute that requires a statue of Junipero Serra to be maintained on the capitol grounds and instead require a monument to Native Americans. The governor can sign the bill, veto it, send it back for modification, or do nothing, Domingo explained. He has until Oct. 10 to act on the bill.
The Thomas More Society of Orange County, a group sponsored by lay Catholic lawyers and judges, in a Sept. 2 email charged that the legislature seeks “to permanently defame” Serra’s life and legacy. The group asked its members and supporters to contact Newsom’s office and state their opposition to the statements about Father Serra in the bill.
“The St. Thomas More Society of Orange County supports the concept of constructing a monument honoring the native people of the Sacramento region,” the group said. “However, we strongly oppose the absolutely unnecessary and conclusory findings tarnishing Fr. Serra, and we are concerned how these findings may be used in the future. The monument can certainly be constructed without disparaging Fr. Serra.”
The Catholic lawyers’ group provided a sample message to the governor which called the bill “misleading, conclusory and sparse on facts.” The bill “goes much farther” than recognizing Native Americans and contains “entirely unnecessary, unsupported legislative findings that disparage Fr. Serra.”
“It is offensive to Catholics and their heritage and history in California, and contains a highly incomplete and inaccurate portrayal of a great man,” said the sample message. The message urges the governor not to sign the bill or to remove “all legislative findings” about Fr. Serra from the bill.
The Catholic group objected that the bill relies on “a singly highly questionable source” and ignores “the plethora of evidence in favor of the Apostle of California.”
Among the longtime admirers of St. Junipero Serra is Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, a Mexican-American who has often depicted Serra as another “Founding Father” of the United States.
“The sad truth is that, beginning decades ago, activists started ‘revising’ history to make St. Junipero the focus of all the abuses committed against California's indigenous peoples,” Archbishop Gomez said in a June 29, 2020 column for Angelus News. “But the crimes and abuses that our saint is blamed for--slanders that are spread widely today over the internet and sometimes repeated by public figures--actually happened long after his death.”
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He praised respectful debate about Serra monuments, but also defended Serra’s example.
“He learned their languages and their ancient customs and ways,” said the archbishop. “St. Junipero came not to conquer, he came to be a brother. ‘We have all come here and remained here for the sole purpose of their well-being and salvation,’ he once wrote. ‘And I believe everyone realizes we love them’.”
“Serious scholars conclude that St. Junipero himself was a gentle man and there were no physical abuses or forced conversions while he was president of the mission system,” said Archbishop Gomez.
Fr. Tom Elewaut, pastor of the Old Mission Basilica of San Buenaventura, told CNA last year that indigenous people are not uniformly critical of Serra.
“There is substantial evidence that among the Chumash St. Junipero Serra is revered and respected for his contributions to our county. Their voices have not been heard or respected. Their voices should have equal weight and import.” Some indigenous Americans, both in Ventura and Santa Barbara, are “appalled by the character assassination of St. Junipero Serra,” the priest reported.
Fr. Elewaut is the 30th successor of St. Junipero Serra at the San Buenaventura mission, which St. Junipero founded on Easter Sunday 1782. It was the final mission the friar founded.