The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Canceling Padre Serra

This entire effort to erase the memory of Serra is from a historical standpoint ridiculous and from a moral standpoint more than a little frightening.

A vandalized statue of St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco is seen June 19, 2020. (CNS photo/David Zandman via Reuters)

I have just received word that, after voting to remove a large statue of St. Junípero Serra that stands in front of their City Hall, the government of Ventura, California (which is in my pastoral region) is now considering removing the image of Padre Serra from the city seal and from the badges of the Ventura police officers. This entire effort to erase the memory of Serra is from a historical standpoint ridiculous and from a moral standpoint more than a little frightening.

Let me address the ridiculous side first. To state it bluntly, Junípero Serra is being used as a convenient scapegoat and whipping boy for certain abuses inherent to eighteenth-century Spanish colonialism. Were such abuses real? Of course. But was Fr. Serra personally responsible for them? Of course not. I won’t deny for a moment that Serra probably engaged in certain disciplinary practices that we would rightfully regard as morally questionable, but the overwhelming evidence suggests that he was a great friend to the native peoples; that he sought, time and again, to protect them from mistreatment by civil authorities; and that he presided over missions where the indigenous were taught useful skills and were introduced to the Christian faith.

To suggest, as did some of those who were petitioning for the removal of his statue, that Serra was the moral equivalent of Hitler and his missions the moral equivalent of concentration camps is nothing short of defamatory.

It is no exaggeration to affirm that from the missions established by Junípero Serra came much of the political and cultural life of the state of California. Many of our greatest cities—San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and yes, Ventura—were built on the foundation of the missions. And I won’t hesitate to say it: the spread of the Christian faith in this part of the world took place largely because of the work of Junipero Serra and his colleagues—and this is a good thing!

Jesus told his first followers to go into all the world and preach the Good News, not as a message of oppression but of spiritual liberation. It was precisely in response to that apostolic summons that Fray Junípero left Majorca, crossed the ocean, and spent the remainder of his life proclaiming Christ to those who did not know him. Though it is politically incorrect to say it today, this kind of enthusiastic evangelism is to be celebrated, not excoriated. The majority of Catholics in California today have the faith that they cherish because Padre Serra first brought it here.

And this brings me to the morally dangerous side of this issue. When I saw the videos of Serra statues being torn down, burned, spat upon, trampled, and desecrated in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I shuddered—not only because such behavior was boorish and unjustified, but also because it called to mind very similar activities at earlier stages of American history. In the mid to late nineteenth century, anti-Catholicism was rampant in the United States, due in part to prejudices inherited from Protestantism but also due to the arrival of large groups of immigrants from Catholic countries, who were considered inferior. A powerful political party, the Know-Nothings, was organized precisely around the theme of opposing Catholicism, and in many of the major cities of our country, Catholic convents, parishes, cathedrals, statues, and churches were burned to the ground by unruly mobs.

Moreover, in that same period, the Ku Klux Klan, which was active not just in the South but in many northern cities as well, endeavored to terrorize blacks and Jews, of course, but also, it is easy to forget, Catholics. If you doubt that this sort of knee-jerk opposition to Catholicism endured well into the twentieth century, I would recommend you consult some of the histrionic rhetoric used by the opponents of John F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign of 1960. The dean of American historians, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., summed up this trend in his oft-repeated remark that prejudice against Catholics is “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.”

So when I see mobs of people tearing down and desecrating statues of a great Catholic saint, canonized just five years ago by Pope Francis, how can I not see the ugly specter of anti-Catholicism raising its head? We are passing through a Jacobin moment in our cultural history, and such periods are dangerous indeed, for there is no clear indication what can stop their momentum.

So in this case, what’s next? Shall we tear down the missions themselves, the moral equivalents of death camps? Shall we call into question the Catholic faith and institutions that Junípero Serra brought to these shores? One can only hope that cooler heads will prevail and that responsible people might bring to an end this ridiculous and dangerous attempt to erase Padre Serra.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Bishop Robert Barron 186 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

13 Comments

  1. I agree with Bishop Barron’s criticism of the government of Ventura removing the statue of Junipero Serra. But I read that the Catholic University of San Diego is also removing his statue. It seems to me that is a worse situation.

    • Gilson reminds us that the first law of philosophical experience is that “philosophy always buries its undertakers.” Maybe the same is true of our statues and remembered saints.

      But, a sad day when statue toppling, not limited to saints, is resisted more visibly by a secular President than by affected Church leadership (the Catholic University of San Diego).

      In our amnesiac culture we have “teachable moment,” about the complexity of basic history, that should be served in some imaginative, resolute and sustained way. How to link the brain-stem vandalism directly to, for example, the new, distorted and contested New York Times “1619 Project” (etc.) now being groomed into the public school systems?

  2. Unfortunately, this is a long time in the coming. Once we concede that the Christian West brought nothing to the world, that the Gospel provides nothing unique or necessary to the world, that all the bad of the West was unmatched by anywhere else in the world, and that any people or civilization can be assumed to ever and only want the best and purest and would have been more than anyone could ever imagine but for the Christian West and the American experiment – I’d say this is the logical conclusion playing out.

    • Truth is what the Gospel brings to the WORLD – there is not a West Gospel or an East Gospel. And a distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, is what is required. Put simply in todays first reading from the Old Testament for the Catholic mass, Micah 6:8:

      You have been told, O man, what is good,
      and what the LORD requires of you:
      Only to do the right and to love goodness,
      and to walk humbly with your God.

      • No there isn’t. But the West is part of the history of God moving the Gospel through the world. The growing acceptance that there hit some Western Babylonian captivity that now needs dismissed for good taste smacks more of that fundamental Protestant distinctive of picking which part of Church history was misinformed, than the idea that God was in control through the mission of the Church, even as the Gospel moved into Europe and then later, America. That doesn’t mean we accept everything from this vast time span as Gospel truth. But we don’t simply begin discarding it willy-nilly either. We won’t even discuss taking down sacred art based on ethnic origins. Let’s not even go there. Those who have spent the last many generations accepting this ‘thank goodness it’s not yesterday’ approach have, in some ways, now painted us all into this corner. Best to pull the rip-chord and bail out before the corner gets any tighter.

  3. Apparently, Bishop Barron is revealing thst he can’t bring himself to the point of criticizing BLM or Antifa etc etc.

    Tucker Carlson has properly identified them as “the militia” of the leftist establishment, which includes virtually the entire leadership of the “Demokrat” Party, and “frightens” most of the geldings and grifters of the “Re-Pub” Party.

    Indeed, The Lepanto Institute has made allegations that the our “Katholik Charit-Tease” and the “Katholik Campaign for Human Development” are directly and indirectly funding affiliates of BLM and Antifa. And of course 90% our polluted formerly “Katholik” universities, all tacitly support BLM and Antifa.

    BLM’s “Mission” is to “disrupt” and “dismantle the nuclear family,” and promote “trans _____ women,” meaning, quite literally, men who psychologically-disturbed sex maniacs who are sexually aroused by pretending that they are women, and who demand, under threat of violence, that all people must also pretend that these men are women.

    Obviously, Bishop Barron cannot publicly stand against BLM and Antifa etc, and can only stand against “the Know-Nothings of the 19th century;” because there is no cost to Bishop Barron as long as he is protesting against “what’s not happening.”

    More to the point, Bishop Barron is pretending reality is not happening.

    But resliry is happening, and the political alliances of the “Katholik” Establishment are funding the destruction and desecration of Catholic Churches and statues.

    How ironic that an essay opposing “Know-Nothings” is pretending to know nothing about what is really happening here and now.

  4. And to reveal to all just what kind of money-grubbing frauds BLM are, lead by grifters like Shaun King, who has made himself a millionaire by monetizing violent mob politics, read this article by DeRay McKesson, who got “cancelled” by Shaun King for asking where the “church-building donations” were going.

    https://medium.com/@deray/on-shaun-king-351bd812318c

    • Shaun King is obvious in what he is if you look at what he stands for, and he suppresses any voice of dissent. His response to factual challenges to his obscene or imaginative, Marxist and intolerant message is to block you and your challenges to his bombastic lies. We need to wake up and see what is really happening. This is an outright attack on Western Culture, liberty and human dignity. They are intolerant, ever notice how tolerance never goes two ways?

  5. So what are all the Hispanic Catholics who populate heavily the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and southern California doing in all of this? Are they rallying to defend the honor of this Hispanic saint? Are they defending the religion which does so much for them? What about all the Hispanic office holders throughout the region? But, oh, they’re Democrats, right? They are standing instead, most of them, with our modern Catholic haters. An interesting subject for a future article perhaps.

  6. Politely worded appeals to reason are merely an impotent expression of some sort of protest. Where is the army of Catholic ecclesiastics and academicians willing to drop the bomb of historical accuracy on this first wave of “odium fidei” because, rest assured, this is only the beginning. The moral corruption exposed over the past thirty years has robbed us of our tongue. Let’s get back on the horse and get back in the battle.

  7. Bishop, welcome to the BRAVE NEW WORLD; you did not see this coming? Of course the destruction Church and society is the goal and setting up a Utopian Society.

  8. The church, sadly, no longer appears to take a strong stand on ANYTHING. The govt asked the church to close indefinitely for the much hyped Covid pandemic ( still closed in California) and they did it. Jumped through hoops to cooperate, no matter what impact sacrificing the sacraments had their flock. Now demands are coming to deface our statues and you hear some Bishops saying they will ‘discuss” the issue!!!!!! Really??? No, we will NOT. Churches around the world have been set on fire but the church leaders would rather mumble about how we are “all the same”and shun casting blame rather than speak the truth in loud and clear statements. How would anyone have any hope at all they would do much condemnation of those attacking a Catholic saint. Better to shut up and get along. Right??

  9. “One can only hope that cooler heads will prevail and that responsible people might bring to an end this ridiculous and dangerous attempt to erase Padre Serra.”
    Seriously?
    Bishop, be that responsible person of some authority as the church leader you were appointed to be and lead the way to NOT erase Padre Serra! Good Grief, if not now, when? If not you, then who? Good Lord in Heaven, give him strength! I have the weight of my personal computer to help ‘bring an end’ to this. You? You have the weight of the Catholic Church in America. Please, will someone in your ranks defend the faith with their actions and behavior? Before more symbols and churches are destroyed or worse?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*