By California Catholic Conference

Saturday night, July 4, protesters in Sacramento’s Capitol Park tore down a longstanding statue of St. Junípero Serra, our nation’s first Hispanic saint, one of the founders of the modern state of California, and a tireless advocate for the rights of native Americans. 

We respect the pain felt by our native brothers and sisters and their anger at the historical abuses committed against their ancestors, both during the Mission Period and especially afterward. But we need to again remind our fellow Californians, St. Junípero Serra had nothing to do with these abuses. The true historical record is clear on this point. St. Junípero loved and bravely defended the native peoples, even writing a bill of rights to protect them from the ambitions of the Spanish colonizers.

As Californians, we may decide not to honor St. Junípero with a statue on public land, but that is a decision for all of us to debate with a clear understanding of the actual historical events.   It is not a decision that a small group of protesters should take upon themselves.  We call on our elected officials to uphold the rule of law and to encourage thoughtful public discourse, based on a careful review of the historical record, and we call on our neighbors to express themselves peacefully, whether communally or individually, in the great American tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience.

On behalf of the Catholic community of California, we pledge ourselves to continue working for healing, justice and reconciliation in our society and to promote the great truth that St. Junípero defended — that all men and women are created equal as Children of God.