An Open Letter to the Vatican on the Canonization of Junipero Serra

June 9, 2015

His Holiness
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City

Dear Pope Francis,

I am among millions of people the world over who are looking forward to your encyclical on eco-theology and climate change and who support your efforts to renew the church internally and to critique our unjust economic system and more.  

For that very reason I am writing you this letter because I must alert you to the fact that the canonization of Friar Serra, scheduled for this Fall is raising fierce, and in my judgment, perfectly justified, shouts of injustice among indigenous peoples and others here in California where Serra worked and beyond.  As one California Native American wrote me this week, “By virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”  That is how the Native People feel and they are correct to feel it.

I do not know where you received advice about this action but the storm it is generating could well overshadow the positive dimension to your encyclical–and it should.  For it is about further persecution of indigenous peoples, it is about justice vs injustice, it is about a racist system that the church perpetrated with the papal bull in 1493 called “Doctrine of Discovery.”  Haven’t the native peoples suffered enough from European colonialism?  Why in God’s name do we need a “patron saint of colonialism and racism,” i.e. Friar Serra, in the year 2015?  Hasn’t the church learned anything about asking for forgiveness from the indigenous peoples?  Is this about making money for the historic mission sites?  Why are the two Opus Dei archbishops in California from LA and San Francisco pushing this canonization so hard?

I am a theologian and have been a priest for 48 years.  I have lived in California for 32 years.  Please, please, please cease this unwise and insulting and racist effort to canonize this Colonizer-in-chief.  I have written an article about Friar Serra that I include here.

Thank you for your attention.  Below I am including a portion of a letter from a tribal leader that traces its ancestry to the time of Friar Serra.  Pray about this.  And act on it please.  He is asking that instead of canonizing Serra the church seek healing from the various tribes that Serra imprisoned.

Respectfully and with trust in the God of Justice,

Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

“My name is Andrew Salas, Chairperson of the Gabrieleno Band of Mission Indians, Kizh Nation.  We are historically known as The San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, recognized by the State of California as the aboriginal tribe of the Los Angeles basin. Our first contact with Junipero Serra’s expedition party took place 243 years ago in 1771.  

Shortly after the enslavement of our ancestors, our tribal leader’s daughter was raped by Spanish soldiers assigned to the Mission.  Our Chief was killed and decapitated by Spanish Soldiers for seeking justice for the brutal attack on his daughter. His head was kept on display, as a warning to our ancestors that they, too,  would be killed, if they resisted the Church and Junipero Serra’s “evangelism”. 

Pope Francis recently stated: “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding, without bandaging it”, regarding the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.  The Pope continually advocates on behalf of those that have been victimized by sexual abuse in the Church and advocates human life, from the moment of conception.  Clearly the actions of Junipero Serra andthe California Mission System are in conflict with the beliefs Pope Francis has preached for the past two years.”