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News + Politics Protest Serra statue protesters facing criminal charges

Serra statue protesters facing criminal charges

Why is the Catholic Church, which preaches forgiveness and restorative justice, pushing to punish people who tore down a racist statue?

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As the court date approaches for five protesters who tore down a statue of Junipero Serra in Marin County on Indigenous People’s Day, activists and religious leaders said during a Dec. 3 press conference that the statue’s removal was long overdue. 

They also took issue with the role the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco has played in pressing for their prosecution.

Morning Star Gali said that the move to get rid of Confederate symbols should also involve Indigenous people.

On Oct. 12, also known as Columbus Day, a group of five women — four of whom identify as Indigenous and two of whom were baptized in the Catholic church — spray painted the Serra statue red before toppling it during a protest in front of St. Raphael Church in San Rafael. Serra was a priest notorious for brutally abusing Indigenous peoples in the name of missionary work across California. 

Speakers at the virtual press conference, hosted by Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, called out the hypocrisy of the Catholic church in receiving grant money for restorative justice programs, but still supporting Serra and his actions – and seeking harsh penalties for the protesters.

Other speakers accused Marin County of selective progressivity, since the statue of slave trader and explorer Sir Francis Drake was taken down from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and his name was removed from what was previously known as Sir Francis Drake High School this summer. 

“As much as they profess in Marin County to have progressive values, it could really be nothing further from the truth,” said Executive Director of CURYJ George Galvis.

A recent study by University of California Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute found that Marin County is home to six of the 10 most segregated cities in the Bay Area. Last year, the Sausalito Marin City School District received the state’s first desegregation order in 50 years.  

At their first arraignment hearing on Dec. 8, Ines Shiam Gardilcic, 40, Victoria Eva Montanopena, 29, Melissa Aguilar, 36, Marjorie Delgadillo, 36, and Moira Cribben Van de Walker, 25, (also known as the #IndigenousPeoples5) face felony vandalism charges for damaging property worth over $400, said their lawyer Hasmik Geghamyan. As the incident took place on church grounds, members of the community including the Archdiocese of San Francisco had originally pushed for hate crime charges, but those charges have since been dropped. 

This summer, protesters took down statues of Serra in Golden Gate Park, Sacramento, and downtown Los Angeles, but Marin County’s District Attorney’s office is the first to pursue criminal charges. Geghamyan called the charges “politically motivated,” saying the wealthy Marin County should instead address the underlying grievances with Serra. 

As for why San Rafael’s religious leaders are pushing for such harsh charges, “it’s a lack of theological precision, a lack of moral formation, and a lack of courage to be able to not just misremember history but to correct history,” said Pastor Michael McBride of Berkeley’s The Way Christian Center. “Unfortunately, too much of mainstream institutional religion in this country has a blind spot to the historical, and dare I say contemporary, realities of human suffering caused by white supremacy, and all of its many, many, many impacts.” 

In response to the incident, San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has been holding public exorcisms at Bay Area sites where Serra statues were toppled. “Fr. Serra and his fellow Franciscans renounced all worldly pursuits to give their lives to serving the native peoples and so protected them from the abuses of their fellow Spaniards,” Cordileone said according to KPIX

The speakers at the press conference were adamant that they have nothing against the Catholic religion, but simply want Serra’s statue, which represents a traumatic history of genocide against Indigenous people, to be removed as other controversial icons are being removed around the country. 

“The widespread public support for the removal of Confederate statues, as an assertion of racial justice and respect for our Black and Indigenous relatives who endured slavery in this country, needs to also be extended to Indigenous peoples,” said Morning Star Gali, a member of Northern California’s Pit River Nation and executive director of Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples. 

“While monuments to racism and violence are being removed by city and state officials, schools, parks, and activists across the state, the city of San Rafael is refusing to recognize the harms perpetrated against Indigenous people,” said Delgadillo, one of the five accused. She urged attendees to spread the word and call on District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli to drop the charges. 

Spokesperson for the Archdiocese of San Francisco Mike Brown didn’t agree that Serra had an evident history of abuse toward Indigenous people, but said he’s open to discussion about removing controversial icons. “The church is always open to that kind of dialogue, certainly, with oppressed people, with minorities, and with those who have real grievances,” Brown said. 

Pope Francis, though he lauded Serra’s efforts as a missionary and even canonized the friar to sainthood in 2015, has also more recently called for ending injustices toward Indigenous people and taking coherent action to right past wrongs. 

Sister Alison McCrary, a nun, activist, and citizen of the Ani-Yun-Wiya Nation asked that the Archdiocese consider the pope’s words and reconsider his stance. “These monuments are contrary to the teachings of the gospels and contrary to fundamental human values. These are monuments of hate, pure and simple,” McCrary said. 

10 COMMENTS

  1. I studied the history of Junipero Serra during a course on Native American History at SF State. This is a topic that is, to say the very least, complicated. On the one hand, painting Serra as a racist monster is inaccurate. On the other hand, ignoring the very real issues with the treatment of indigenous people by the Spanish, is also inaccurate. Now, I am not surprised to find that Gorn is making ignorant remarks. I am also not surprised at Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s extremist approach to the issue. Gorn likes to stir the pot, in an attempt to con others in to thinking he/she is oh so “progressives.” Ironically, like Cordileone, Gorn was exposed as a supporter of Donald Trump. Cordileone is not fit to be Archbishop. Pope Francis should replace him with someone more capable of reason. Serra is portrayed by one died as a complete monster. The other side, literally considers him a Saint. The truth, as is often the case, lies in the middle. Serra truly loved the local natives. But his zeal overrode his judgement. He sought the best for them, but his efforts caused problems.One thing that impressed me was Serra’s deep concern for their health. He ordered that a place be built where they could receive care, and hopefully recover, and fretted over them. Of course, Serra had no understanding that he, and his fellow Franciscans might well gave brought germs, which were unknown then, that caused those illnesses.

  2. Frugoli, the name of the DA going after these folks name means “little devil” or “mischievous child”.

    Seems pretty on target, a little devil doing the “Church’s” work. Oy vey.

  3. Simba,

    Love your writing and knowledge of ‘Holy Mother Church’.

    Black Muslims in America preach that white people came from the tongue of a serpent …

    On the Moon.

    Teach your kids to fight.

    Fight and farm and fish and hunt.

    Train them for a ‘Mad Max’ world.

    It’s just around the corner.

    h.

  4. eq: “Indigenous peoples were enslaving each other, sacrificing each other, fighting over territory long before St. Junipero Sierra came onto the scene.”

    Would you have us erect statues of those indigenous people as well, given that in your estimation, they rise to the level of Serra? They should get larger statues because they lived in relative harmony with the landscape that Serra’s descendants destroyed.

  5. Tearing down a statue accomplishes nothing but self-serving pride and arrogance on the part of the vandals: the object of their “hatred” accomplished more, in his lifetime–in HIS HISTORICAL TIME PERIOD–than they ever could by going onto Church grounds and showing hate. It just shows their ignorance of history. Indigenous peoples were enslaving each other, sacrificing each other, fighting over territory long before St. Junipero Sierra came onto the scene. You know nothing, Ines Shiam Gardilcic, 40, Victoria Eva Montanopena, 29, Melissa Aguilar, 36, Marjorie Delgadillo, 36, and Moira Cribben Van de Walker, 25, except perhaps your own ages, your lack of paying attention in school, and a need to be re-educated in some manners as well as history.

  6. richmondman: Of course people should not be vandalizing statues just as they should not be vandalizing cars. On the other hand, instead of exorcising demons and vandalizing statues of dead people maybe both parties should consider doing something more productive like volunteering at local nursing homes, shelters and jails where people are suffering alone of a deadly illness and in desperate need of assistance?

  7. H brown –
    the Catholic church should be a force for social justice in a world which desperately needs it. In some poor areas of countries like India, Pakistan and Central America it is the only provider of health care and human services. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Catholic church has been controlled by self hating gay men who have focused obsessively on rigid sexual rules and condemnation of any deviance from them. In the US the Catholic clergy has had an epidemic of sex abuse of minors which has nearly destroyed their infrastructure. They have strayed so far from the original teachings of Jesus that , in my opinion, it isn’t really a Christian institution anymore. The whole Vatican clerical structure needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

  8. Jesus would have thought exorcism was an abomination of true religion.

    Carrying a fetish about a statue is pagan idolatry. The ten commandments says to avoid this.

  9. Elini,

    Keep in mind that the Catholic church practices cannibalism at every mass.

    Yep.

    It is an ‘article of faith’.

    Called: ‘Transubstantiation’.

    “This is my body.”

    “This is my blood.”

    You have to believe that the wafer and wine (if you’re lucky) actually turns to the body and blood of Jesus Christ as you consume it.

    Now, pardon me but, that’s some sick shit to be teaching children.

    Go Warriors!

    h.

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