“One of the greatest gaps between history and reality has been the retelling of the mission period in Native American history and the role of Franciscan friar Junípero Serra,” the bill states, claiming that Serra oversaw the mission system which included “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women.”
These claims about Serra are false, said Archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in their op-ed.
“While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system, the network of 21 communities that Franciscans established along the California coast to evangelize native people,” they wrote.
The archbishops wrote that the lawmakers drew from “a single tendentious book written by journalist Elias Castillo.” That book, “A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions,” is cited in the bill as “a more accurate and complete account of the period.”
“As leaders of the state’s two largest Catholic communities, we serve thousands of native Californians who trace their faith to ancestors who helped build the missions,” they said. “We understand the bitter history of native exploitation. But history can be complicated and facts matter.”
The archbishops described Serra as a “complex character,” but one who “defended indigenous people’s humanity, decried the abuse of indigenous women, and argued against imposing the death penalty on natives who had burned down a mission and murdered one of his friends.”
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