A defense of St. Junipero Serra
Cordileone, in a May 24 letter to Frugoli’s office, said he has tried to “show goodwill and a desire to pursue a peaceful but honest resolution of this ugly affair.”
“I readily acknowledge, and have done so numerous times, that horrible atrocities have been perpetrated against the indigenous people of California,” he said. “While an honest reading of the historical record would clear Junipero Serra of perpetrating such atrocities — indeed, he gave his life to defending the native people of our land — the actual historical record is beside the point.”
Critics of Junipero Serra claim that he and his missions were responsible for a host of atrocities against native peoples. The claim has drawn strong objections from Catholics who say this is inaccurate and misrepresents Serra.
“Junípero Serra spent his life caring for and defending the indigenous people of California to the point of heroic virtue. Indian and Spaniard alike mourned when he died,” Cordileone said in September 2021 after the California governor approved the removal of a Serra statue from state capitol grounds. “We would do well to imitate his virtues. We ignore history to our peril.”
Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra during his 2015 visit to the U.S. He said the saint “sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”
Amid the civil unrest of 2020 in which vandals tore down many statues, there was a massive four-alarm fire at the church at Mission San Gabriel near Los Angeles, which was founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771. The alleged arsonist, whose trial is still pending, was known at the mission and had a history of conflicts with mission staff.
‘Do you understand the significance of this, and how it makes us feel?’
Cordileone strongly criticized the district attorney’s justification for the reduced misdemeanor charges on the grounds that the perpetrators had shown “active participation” in a “restorative justice process.”
“This point is, a felony crime was committed: The law does not allow people to trespass onto private property and destroy it, all the more so when the private property is a house of worship and the property being destroyed has sacred value to the members of the congregation,” the archbishop said.
Cordileone said he wanted a just punishment for the crime but did not want the defendants to go to prison.
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“I have asked that the vandals publicly repudiate their crime and acknowledge the harm they have inflicted on us. Acknowledging wrongdoing is the first step in restorative justice. A simple ‘I’m sorry’ falls pitifully short of reparation for the harm that was done,” he said.
He lamented that San Rafael Police Department officers stood by and watched the vandals commit the crime when the parish had an agreement with the department that the police would intervene if the protesters trespassed onto parish property. Cordileone wondered whether the officers stood by based on orders from their superiors.
“Do you understand the significance of this, and how it makes us feel?” Cordileone asked the district attorney. “Who gave the order to the police officers not to do their sworn duty, for which they put their lives on the line every day? Why has there been no investigation? Why has the person responsible for this injustice not been held accountable?”
Though the district attorney’s office indicated that the resolution to the case followed a “thorough case review” by prosecutors and “a long discussion” among church and community members, Cordileone’s letter indicated the archdiocese was not part of this discussion.
“The archdiocese was shut out of the conversation, and the mediator was treating the perpetrators as if they were the victims,” the archbishop said. He called this “a direct insult to the victims of this crime and only rubs the salt more deeply into our wounds.”
The archbishop cited Americans’ “growing mistrust” in government institutions.