Pope’s Hypocritical Stance Towards Indigenous Americans Opens New Wounds by Randy Woodley

In speaking of immigration to US Congress today, Pope Francis 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.” The, 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, 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” is mere hypocrisy after such an affront to Indigenous peoples. Each congressional applause only added an exclamation point to your propaganda and props up their justification for not dealing with America’s genocide.

Your insistence on the canonization of Friar Junipero Serra is also outrageous but as we saw today, (and yesterday when you chose to “saint” him) it reinforces your disregard for the rights of Indigenous peoples. Serra, a man responsible for most of the imprisonment and colonization of California’s Indigenous peoples, is more than affront, it is egregious. You who speak so highly of the sanctity of life and the value of family insist 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 kidnapped children only to be reunited with their parents after everyone agreed to family baptisms and 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.[1]

And Pope Francis, while we are discussing Indigenous peoples 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 that genocidal buffoon, Columbus? These marching orders by the church gave Catholics and influenced Protestants alike, to partake in carte blanche justification to enslave Africans and Indigenous people’s everywhere and to justify worldwide land theft and genocide. But perhaps even genocide cannot be judged today 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? 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 land theft. You dishonor these historic and present prophetic voices by your own rationale to disregard the sins of the past against Indigenous peoples and you dishonor the sacrifices they have made.

Pope Francis, you are likely a wonderful person but you have no sense of justice when it comes to true justice for the marginalized and still disenfranchised Indigenous peoples of the world. And, sadly to say, from where I stand, they and those who stood up for them in the past and present, are much closer to Jesus than you.

For more information on the Pope’s canonization of Serra:



[1] Serra, letter to Fermin de Lasuen, Monterey, 12 January 1780, Ibid., vol 3, p. 424f.

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2 Responses to Pope’s Hypocritical Stance Towards Indigenous Americans Opens New Wounds by Randy Woodley

  1. Bo Sanders says:

    Reblogged this on navigating between the everyday and theology and commented:
    Randy Woodley on Pope Francis’ address to congress

  2. Alex Trapp says:

    You make some very good points, obviously there is much work to be done in this area. Have you considered his address in Bolivia? (https://youtu.be/gKJ7LrLkCC4). The pope has to be very tactful, and is trying to build bridges. In front of congress he chose to get specific only about certain issues. Also he is a lot stronger speaker in spanish. His speech in Bolivia makes a lot stronger claims on the indigenous issues, it was a forum for popular movements. I was listening to the speech in english, and when he said it he had a weird rhythm to it, I feel like the written transcript comes off as a lot more heartless than what he meant.

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