NPR's Jasmine Garsd spotlighted the critics of Pope Francis's move to canonize Franciscan friar Junipero Serra in a Wednesday article on the public radio network's website. Garsd zeroed in on how "Native American activists" claim that Father Serra, who founded several missions in present-day California in the 1700s, was "an accomplice in the brutal colonization of natives." The correspondent cited one such "activist" who claimed that "Serra turned a blind eye to the abuses Native Americans suffered."
Garsd led her item for NPR.org, "A Saint With A Mixed History: Junipero Serra's Canonization Raises Eyebrows," by noting that Serra is "well known in California: Schools and streets are named in his honor, and statues of the 18th century Spanish missionary still stand." She continued with a summary of the critics' objections: "But Native American activists are far less enamored with the friar, saying Serra was actually an accomplice in the brutal colonization of natives. They object to Pope Francis' recent announcement that he will canonize Serra when he travels to the U.S. this fall."
The NPR journalist set aside three paragraphs to an "activist" critic from academia:
Deborah Miranda, a literature professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, is a member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of California. Her book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir is a compilation of stories related to her own family's experience with California missionaries.
Miranda told NPR that Serra turned a blind eye to the abuses Native Americans suffered. "But he didn't put a stop to it," she said. "I think he was very ambitious and very much caught up in the opportunity to create a civilization. He was playing God in a way."
There are other Latin American historical figures the pope could choose to canonize, said Miranda. Why not pick Bartolome De Las Casas, a 16th century bishop who was vocal about atrocities against Native Americans? She also suggested Francis consider Monseñor Óscar Romero, who criticized the Salvadoran government's human rights record during the country's civil war and was assassinated.
It should be pointed out that on her collegiate website, Professor Miranda lists that her areas of research expertise include "Gay/Lesbian/Transgendered/Queer/2-Spirit literature." She also wrote a paper titled "Queering the Missionary Position: Sexual Outlaws in the California Indian Testimonio of Isabel Meadows," where she makes the following far-left contention:
...Any sexual activity that was not strictly between a normative man and normative woman married in the Catholic church, utilizing the "missionary position" of male on top, female facing (passive) beneath him, was regarded as outlawed. Forbidden sexual activity included not just heterosexual partners outside of Catholic marriage ceremony, but heterosexual partners who refused to have frequent sex, who limited sexual activity in order to space children or allow women to recuperate from pregnancy and childbirth...as well as same-sex partnerships or partnerships between normative men and California third-gender "joyas," or single women who (openly or clandestinely) chose their own male partners without Church ceremony...the testimonio of Isabel Meadows, one of my own ancestors whose own refusal to marry, and choice to remain childless, also speaks to a kind of outlaw sexuality that may have been a conscious strategy allowing her to survive a nearly 80% decimation of the California India[n] population.
Garsd also turned to another academic, who lamented the papal move:
Professor Steven Hackel of the University of California, Riverside is the author of Junípero Serra: California's Founding Father. "Serra believed that Indians where children," he said. "That they where a primitive, impoverished, hungry and naked people, mired in superstition and the silliness of their grandparents."
...Hackel says that the way the canonization process is unfolding is unfortunate. "I think they have the obligation to acknowledge what missions meant for California Indian people," he said. "I think they have an obligation to have a debate and discussion, and even solemn moments of reflection, and perhaps even [an] apology."
The NPR correspondent did include defenders of the canonization in her article, but devoted less space to them:
Addressing the controversy, Francis X. Rocca, Rome bureau chief for Catholic News, told NPR that Pope Francis has made a point of canonizing famous evangelizers. "And he picked someone who was a Spanish speaker," Rocca pointed out. "That might be his own background as a South American, but also reaching out to the growing part of the Church in the United States who is Hispanic."
...In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, author David McLaughlin, founder of the California Mission Resources Center website, described Serra as a "talented but flawed man of his time" who "lived an exemplary religious life by the terms of his day."
The article also quotes Father Tom Elewaut, a priest at San Buenaventura Mission, who said that while colonialism was a tragedy, "Serra was a protectorate of the Native Americans." Several historians say that Serra challenged those who sought to enslave the Indians.
Garsd also left out that Father Serra is one of the two prominent Californians featured in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. The Golden State donated the statue of the Franciscan missionary in 1931. The other Californian whose statue is in the Capitol: President Ronald Reagan.