Junipero Serra, again

I pointed a few weeks ago to an indignant outburst by the Catholic League’s William Donohue about criticism of Junipero Serra by the New York Times. What do you know? The newspaper has once again incurred Donohue’s wrath.

“Last week, a few hours after publishing an essay about American Catholics’ reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, I received a flood of ill tidings via email. My correspondents’ anger was unrelated to the subject of my article, but was instead inflamed by a mention of Junipero Serra, a canonized Franciscan friar who founded Spanish missions throughout California in the 18th century.”

Bruenig cites the sentence where she accused Serra of torture, but nowhere in her 1754-word article is there even an attempt to disprove what I said. In other words, she provides zero evidence that Serra tortured the Indians. While her piece this time is much more balanced than her initial one, her failure — and the failure of the newspaper — to come to grips with my single complaint is as revealing as it is disturbing.

Father Serra never tortured the Indians. It is a lie.

Well. According to Wikipedia:

Mark A. Noll, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, wrote that Serra’s attitude — that missionaries could, and should, treat their wards like children, including the use of corporal punishment — was common at the time. Tinker argues that it is more appropriate to judge the beatings and whippings administered by Serra and others from the point of view of the Native Americans, who were the victims of the violence, and who did not punish their children with physical discipline. Salvatore J. Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, acknowledges Native American concerns about Serra’s whippings and coercive treatment, but argues that missionaries were also teaching school and farming.

There you go: Yes, Serra flogged Native Americans — but taught them the ABCs!

Personally, neither Serra nor Donohue is particularly interesting; this story is noteworthy only because of Donohue’s recurring insistence upon an obvious fiction — that Serra’s treatment of Native Americans was non-violent. This is as Christian as it gets: Ignore settled, established facts; insist upon a happy lie; and then attack the character of those who won’t go along. Donohue is a fool, but I’ve no doubt whatever that he is sincere.

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