THE BLOG
09/27/2015 07:58 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2016

The Pope's Hypocritical Stance Towards Indigenous Americans Opens New Wounds: An Open Letter

Dear Pope Francis,

While the rest of the country celebrates your voice for the poor and disenfranchised, I mourn your disregard for the most disenfranchised people in North America. While you are lauded for your concern over human rights, I wonder why your concern only goes to those most identified in America with Settler Colonialism? In speaking of immigration to US Congress, you said:

"Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those people, and the nations, from the heart of American democracy, we affirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but," lifting his face from the script and looking out into the crowd he said, "we know it's very difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present."

Then, wait for it...yes, the congress applauds.

Honorable Pope Francis, may I express to you the age-old lesson that history repeats itself? People and governments repeat the "sins and the errors of the past" by not fully dealing with their responsibilities in the past. Your casual reference to the sins of America's past, while never even naming our peoples as First Nations, Native Americans or Indigenous peoples, only helps to justify and reinforce to the body to which you addressed, our continued mistreatment and our relegation to their intentions for us to fade into quiet oblivion. Your references to Jesus' words to "do unto others as you would want them to do to you" feels to me like mere hypocrisy after such an affront to Indigenous peoples. To add to the pain, each congressional applause only inserted an exclamation point to your callousness to America's Indigenous plight and serves to prop up their own justification in not dealing with America's genocidal past systemic record.

Your insistence on the canonization of Friar Junipero Serra was outrageous to Indigenous people everywhere but as we saw in your address to Congress, that heinous act simply reinforces your disregard for the rights of Indigenous peoples. Serra, a man responsible for most of the imprisonment and colonization of northern California's Indigenous peoples, is more than affront, it is an egregious sin. You, who speak so highly of the sanctity of life and the value of family, insisted on canonizing a man who has total disregard for the lives of those to whom he was "spreading the gospel." Serra allowed his men to rape Native women and kill their objectors. He tortured and maimed those who resisted his message of Christianity, and he kidnapped children only to be reunited with their parents after everyone agreed to family baptisms into Christianity and to perpetual enslavement. Hear Serra's own words:

I would not feel sorry no matter what punishment they gave them, if they would commute it to prison for life, or in the stocks every day, since then it would be easier for them to die well. Do you think it possible that if they kept them prisoners for a time, and by means of interpreters explained to them about the life to come and its eternal duration, and if we prayed to God for them - might we not persuade them to repent and win them over to a better life? You could impress on them that the only reason they were still alive is because of our affection for them, and the trouble we took to save their lives.

Furthermore Serra was officially justified in his actions because of the Catholic Doctrine of Conquest. Pope Francis if you love justice, as God does, why not revoke the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493, collectively known as the "Doctrine of Discovery" which justified the cession of all lands "discovered by "Christians" like Serra and, Columbus? These marching orders by the church gave authority to Catholics and influenced Protestants alike, to partake in carte blanche enslavement of Africans and Indigenous people's everywhere and to justify worldwide land theft and genocide. But perhaps even genocide cannot be judged using today's standards according to your suggestion?

Which brings me to my final concern-your rationale. You say we can't judge the mistakes of the past by today's standards? But what about judging the sins of the past according to the legacy of brave men and women who have stood up for the rights of Indigenous peoples before during and after Serra's, (and other church representatives) time? Why not judge them according to godly person's of their own times? Your presumption disregards the long legacy of those whom I consider to be true heroes, who protested slavery, condemned forced mission and risked their lives to protest Indigenous people from land theft and murder. Your argument dishonor these historic and present prophetic voices. By your own rationale to disregard the sins of the past against Indigenous peoples, you dishonor the sacrifices those righteous heroes have made. Are we not to honor those who deserve honor?

Pope Francis, you are likely a wonderful person but you apparently have little sense of justice when it comes to the marginalized and still disenfranchised Indigenous peoples of America. And, sadly to say, speaking only for myself, from where I stand, the Indigenous people of America, and those who have stood up for them in the past and present, are much closer to Jesus than you.