Why is the Catholic Church celebrating genocide?

November 2, 2015
Junipero Serra

Junipero Serra

Opinion by José Freeman, Salinan Trowtraahl Elders’ Council

We are Salinan Trowtraahl. What we share here reflects solely and exclusively the heart of our Salinan village alone and not that of other Salinan tribal organizations.

Recently, we were invited to attend a mass in our homeland at Mission San Antonio which was built by our ancestors. The purpose of the mass is to celebrate the canonization of Junipero Serra. We responded to church authorities mainly with the following comments.

We see that the heart of individual Catholics is sincere in wishing for healing. However, healing requires acknowledgment of injury, admission of responsibility and a sincere effort at reconciliation through amends. This process is familiar to our native spiritual ethics. It is part of the Catholic Church’s Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Church in our area has yet to initiate true reconciliation.

Junipero Serra was the driving force for a system that brought severe and traumatic injury to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of our sovereign, native community. In 1980, local historian Olive Wollesen, who spent a good deal of her life getting to know Salinan people and history, wrote about us to linguist Dr. Katherine Turner that, “Accounts of genocide have been handed down by word of mouth in the Indian families.”

José Freeman 2

José Freeman

We do not use the word “genocide” lightly. However, our experience in the mission system fostered by Serra does meet the criteria for genocide as defined in United Nations Resolution 260 and adopted in 1948.

Particularly painful for our village upon hearing of Serra’s canonization was remembering the attitude he demonstrated toward the loss of so many young Salinan children to a plague at Mission San Antonio. On July 24, 1775, Serra wrote to Father Guardian Francisco Pangua, “In the midst of all our little troubles, which are plentiful, the spiritual side of all the missions is developing most happily. In San Antonio they are faced with two harvests at one and the same time, that is, of the wheat, and of a sickness among the children, who are dying.”

In effect, Serra was celebrating that a “harvest of the souls of children for God” had occurred at Mission San Antonio. Canonizing a man who rejoiced over the death of children before they even had a chance to live a full life is akin to ripping open the wound and pouring in salt. It is deeply painful for us to realize the Catholic Church would even consider celebrating the canonization of such a man.

We had hoped that the Catholic Church would not consider the death of innocent children to be part of their “mission to fulfill God’s command.” The cruelly insensitive canonization of Serra however feels typical of an institution that directly caused hundreds of thousands of deaths through 500 years of “Crusades” not to mention 200 years of Inquisitions.

There are those who say that the lives of native peoples in California were overall improved by the missions. From a strictly material perspective, life today does have advantages not previously available.  However, what little we gained in the material sense pales in contrast to the psychological pain suffered by our families and the spiritual fragmentation of our community, culture and identity caused by genocide.

In Dec. 2007, retired Bishop Francis A. Quinn appeared at a mass at Mission of St. Raphael in San Raphael, California. He apologized to the Miwok Indians “for cruelties the church committed against them two centuries ago.”

Bishop Quinn further acknowledged that “the church authorities took the Indian out of the Indian, destroying traditional spiritual practices and imposing a European Catholicism upon the natives.” Those words were a beginning and a good first step in the right direction.

This most recent aggravation of our soul wounding by Pope Francis in canonizing Serra strengthens our resolve to continue putting the Indian back in the Indian.

José Freeman, 69, is a member of the Salinan Trowtraahl Elders’ Council who works as a marriage family therapist.

His father was born in 1900 and raised by his Salinan grandmother, Gertrudis Villavicencio-Soto, who was born in 1835. Gertrudis experienced the re-emergence of the Salinan culture at her uncle’s place, the Villa Ranch near Cayucos, after the missions were secularized in 1834.

Jose Freeman re-connected with the Salinan community in 1995 after being asked to research the history and culture for purposes of federal recognition. He continues to study and to be a part of healing from genocide through reawakening of the ancient culture’s traditions and language.

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  1. Gordo says:

    Reading this opinion piece I am reminded that man’s inhumanity towards man knows know race, ethnicity or color; only intent.

    Was Fr. Serra’s intent to destroy the natives he encountered while eatablishing the mission? I highly doubt it.

    The man was doing what he thought was right, which was to spread Christianity and to help Spain populate its remote colony.

    What happened to the natives has happened to other groups throughout millenia. The difference is this time society is all about feeling guilt over actually building something and emotional intelligence regarding how the other guy feels, especially if he was on the wrong side of history. As a result we demonize a man of God and celebrate a bunch of dirt worshippers.

    (0) 10 Total Votes - 5 up - 5 down
  2. Ted Slanders says:

    As if the Catholics don’t already have enough bad press with their blatant pedophile Priest coverups of late, now Pope Francis comes to the forefront and gives credence and high esteem to the leader of the California Mission system, Father Junipero Serra, whose Padres along the Mission system forced the indians into Christianity and slavery.

    “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

    As historicity blatantly shows, the Spanish regarded the Indians as depraved, degraded, savage, superstitious, wild, and devil worshipers. Choice was taken away from the indian where attendance to the hell bound Catholic church was mandatory. Also mandatory was the cruel labor and punishment the Spanish meted out along the Padre Trail towards the indian culture with violent social and cultural change. Father Junipero Serra was in charge.

    Unfortunately, salvation came at a great price for the native indians, and that price was slavery along with forced Christianity, pure and simple. Despite good Catholic intentions, if this is even possible, the mission system decimated and destroyed native peoples subject to it, plain and simple.The results were people wrenched from home, tradition and family, subjugated to an alien culture and contradictory values from the Hell bound Catholic Church. Father Junipero Serra was in charge.

    My beloved Hebrew God of my Christian faith still doesn’t allow my hair on the back of my neck to completely lay down as I pass the San Miguel Mission when I travel North. This is because this Mission has the most brutal history towards the Indians in the way of beatings, rape, pedophilia, and an array of other horrific acts conducted by the Catholic Padres and soldiers towards the native indians of this area. Father Junipero Serra was in charge.

    It matters not that true Christians see Pope Francis giving Sainthood to the leader of the California Mission system, Father Junipero Serra, where the buck stopped at his door for the the horrific treatment of indians along the entire Padre Trail, because we can gain solace upon knowing that Junipero Serra is burning in the sulfur lakes of Hell. Praise our version of the Christian God for his revenge!

    (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
  3. Aragon says:

    I went and looked up United Nations Resolution 260. Here is the language regarding the definition of genocide:

    “Article II

    In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    * Killing members of the group;

    * Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    * Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

    * Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

    * Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

    Mr. Freeman, either you’re wholly ignorant or you’re a liar. Perhaps both. There really is no other option you can claim. Again, shame on you for trying to use this UN document to justify your sickening assault on Saint Junipero Serra and the Catholic Church.

    (5) 19 Total Votes - 12 up - 7 down
  4. Aragon says:


    Really? LOL!!

    (4) 12 Total Votes - 8 up - 4 down
  5. SLO_Johnny says:

    The Catholic Church didn’t intentionally kill Native Americans. The definition of genocide requires that the killing be intentional. The Native American populace died as a result of infectious diseases; just as hundreds of millions of Europeans had died from huge pandemics of plague, small pox, and other infectious disease. Such pandemic diseases were common across Europe over the prior centuries. During that time period, 3/5ths of all children died of infectious diseases in early infancy.

    One must look at how Native Americans treated each other over the 20,000 years after they reached the Americas. There were a constant string of wars between and among various tribes and within various cultural groups. These wars went on for thousands of years. The treatment of prisoners and captives was frequently brutal and genocide was frequently the goal of both groups. We know very little about the history because almost no Native Americans had a written language so we must rely almost entirely on archaeological evidence and verbal mythology.

    (16) 24 Total Votes - 20 up - 4 down
    • Aragon says:

      An excellent posting. Bravo…

      I wonder what drives someone like Freeman to post such garbage now that Serra has been canonized a saint?

      My guess is that he and others will use this as another reason to accelerate the process of realizing their real dream — a casino.

      Was it the Salinan Trowtraahl that was in cahoots with Kelly Gearhart to build a casino directly adjacent to Old Mission San Miguel? Talk about lowlife operators! Ms. Hearst had to step in and buy the property to insure such a horrible thing would never happen.

      (1) 15 Total Votes - 8 up - 7 down
      • amethyst says:

        He is not part of the “Casino” group, that is the Salinan Tribe of San Luis Obispo and Monterey county group.

        (0) 6 Total Votes - 3 up - 3 down
        • SamLouis says:

          Then he must be working another angle with sickening assault on Saint Junipero Serra and the Catholic Church.

          (-6) 10 Total Votes - 2 up - 8 down
    • amethyst says:

      You are right about the archaeology verifying history of Native Americans, but in this instance it is also in documentation going back as far as the building of the Misssion San Antonio.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  6. Slowerfaster says:

    Thank you for this excellent article and study into true history.

    My only correction would be that the decimation of the aboriginal population by the European conquerors, thieves, and extractionists was in the millions …close to 95% .

    It was then, and continues today, as the primary MO of white supremacy.

    If the Aryan ‘settlers’ had not had firearms technology ( which they stole from the Chinese ), the bad ones would have been dealt with and disappeared, and the good ones would have been absorbed into the various tribes ( as happened with several supposedly ‘lost’ settlements on the east coast ).

    (-18) 26 Total Votes - 4 up - 22 down
    • Kaiser Bill says:

      Your post does not comport with historical reality.

      There is no way firearms allowed Cortes and a few hundred men to conquer hundreds of thousands of Aztec warriors.

      Clearly, ingenuity on the part of Cortes and the Spanish had to play some part in the conquest of Mexico (ingenuity which includes using guns, the Chinese had mostly used them as toys).

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
      • SamLouis says:

        You’re responding to a troll posting. That said:

        Cortes entered what is now Mexico in AD 1519. The Alta California Missions did not begin until 1769. That 250 years is an eternity with regard to firearms development, training and supply.

        You’re right, Spanish firearms didn’t play a big part of Cortes’ conquest of the Aztec Empire. They did however play a defensive role within the Alta California Missions. That said, the natives peoples of Alta California would have been able to easily annihilate the incoming Spaniards had they been organized — there were simply too few Spaniards available to defend themselves had they come across an aggressive adversary.

        (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  7. Aragon says:

    Shame on you Mr. José Freeman for misusing the term “genocide” in such a malicious and incendiary manner. Attempting to use United Nations Resolution 260 as justification for your comments brings all that you write into dire question.

    Neither Saint Junipero Serra nor the Catholic Church practiced “genocide” in the Alta California Mission System. That’s the fact no matter how hard your struggle to sell something different — something wrong. You and others like you used that word as a weapon to delay the canonization of Saint Serra for decades. Despite your hideous efforts the Church has acted and Serra is now a saint, thanks be to God.

    You have things backwards, Mr. Freeman. It’s you and the other members of the “Salinan Trowtraahl” that owe the Catholic Church an apology and not the reverse. Don’t worry, no one is actually waiting for you and yours to do the right thing.

    At the very least perhaps you could thank the Church for preserving what’s left of your culture through the California Mission System. Were it not for the missions, the indigenous peoples of the Central Coast WOULD have actually experienced genocide with the discovery of gold and California statehood.

    Again, shame on you Mr. José Freeman for attacking Serra and the Church once more as a means to vent your hatred. You should really make the effort to realize that Junipero Serra is now a great saint of the Church and that your attacks or those of your brethren will never change that.

    (7) 27 Total Votes - 17 up - 10 down
  8. indigo1955 says:

    For the same reason they continue to encourage pedophiles in the church?

    (-15) 29 Total Votes - 7 up - 22 down

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