The Junipero Serra Skirmish | The American Spectator

The Junipero Serra Skirmish
George Neumayr
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A Junipero Serra statue after being yanked down in Los Angeles (YouTube screenshot)

The California Catholic Conference issued a brief statement last week decrying the toppling of Junipero Serra statues. But the statement did little to stiffen the spines of Catholic clerics. The statement sought to reason with the mob, noting that Junipero Serra devoted his life to the service of Indians and protected them from Spanish soldiers.

At the bottom of this wobbliness is the loss of conviction about the Church’s mission. Church officials simply don’t believe in it anymore.

“The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities. Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era,” said the statement. “And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”

This is true, but the mob doesn’t care. Under “today’s standards,” brainwashed liberals prefer to colonialize Third World peoples through pro-abortion NGOs and the like. They come not to Christianize but to corrupt, introducing today’s Indians to the evils of modern life. The idea that today’s UN busybodies are morally superior to missionaries like Serra is a joke.

As Junipero Serra statues bit the dust in Los Angeles and San Francisco, members of the laity have looked to the hierarchy for leadership beyond just defensive statements about Serra. But no such leadership is forthcoming. One bishop, Robert Barron of Los Angeles, has even argued that this controversy is not primarily the hierarchy’s business:

I would argue that the lion’s share of the work regarding this massive societal problem belongs to those whose proper arena is the society and whose expertise lies precisely in the relevant areas of concern, namely, the laity. If I may be blunt, the question ought not be, “what are the bishops doing about it?” but rather, “what can I and my Christian friends do about it?”

We’ll tend to our sphere, you tend to yours, Barron in effect said. Never mind that the bishops are not even keeping Serra statues standing on church property. Up and down the state of California, church officials are scurrying to remove Serra statues out of fear of the mob. This is akin to civic leaders taking down George Washington statues in front of government buildings to “preserve them.”

Preserve them for what? Once they come down, they never go back up. We’ll “relocate” them, say church officials. To where? A closet?

Barron’s colleague, Bishop Daniel Garcia of Monterey, had the Serra statue removed from in front of Old Mission San Juan Bautista, saying that he wanted to protect it “from possible desecration by violence.”

The same happened at Mission San Juan Capistrano and the San Luis Obispo Mission. In Ventura, the priest at its mission has joined the mayor and the Chumash Indians in calling for the statue of Serra in front of City Hall to be removed.

Will the Church use the same “precaution” rationale to take down other statutes of saints and even the statues of Jesus and Mary? After all, members of Black Lives Matters are threatening them, too.

Doing the mob’s work for it before it even arrives is a profile in cowardice. The Church should have said from the beginning, “We’re keeping them up,” and then put guards around them. But voluntarily removing them just gives veto power to the mob over the Church. Such surrenders are a metaphor for the Church’s acceptance of a hectoring secularism in general, which has not only driven the Church to the margins of society but also resulted in pitiful compromises within its own institutions. Where is the Church’s self-respect?

At the bottom of this wobbliness is the loss of conviction about the Church’s mission. Church officials simply don’t believe in it anymore. They lack the faith of a Junipero Serra and could never have built the missions they are now gradually dismantling. Before long, the missions Serra founded will be nothing more than irrelevant museums.

In America magazine, which is run by the Jesuits, a piece titled “We need to do more than topple (some) statues” appeared. “Some statues deserve to be toppled and removed because their symbolic value has been undermined by a political and historiographical rethinking of a tragic past,” wrote Massimo Faggioli. He also wrote, “European culture and Christianity have been put on the stand. Of course they are not innocent: Colonialism, slavery, genocide, cultural oppression and white supremacy have made of lot of victims.”

The mob has no such reservations about its culture. It is supremely confident in its moral authority. The Church lost that level of resolve decades ago and has been losing skirmishes in the culture war ever since.

George Neumayr
George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom.
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