An Exorcism, Junipero Serra, and the Papal Bulls

On October 17, 2020, the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, performed an exorcism ceremony outside the San Rafael Church, where protestors had recently toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra. An exorcism is a ritual conducted to cast out demons and get rid of the influence of the devil, a fallen angel named “Satan.” Archbishop Cordileone said his ceremony was intended to drive out evil and defend the image of Serra.

A demon is said to be a supernatural being, typically associated with evil, a word which, quite interestingly, is “live” spelled backwards.  And evil is defined as “causing ruin, injury, or pain; harmful.” It is also defined as “the quality of being morally bad or wrong, wickedness.”

To be wicked is to be malicious, and malice is defined as “a desire to harm others.” To be malicious is to be deliberately harmful to others. In law, malice is “the intent, without just cause or reason, to commit a wrongful act that will result in harm to another.”

How does the above etymology shed light on the Archbishop’s exorcism? The answer is found in the ruin, injury, pain, harm, and wickedness inflicted on the original nations and peoples by the Spanish Catholic invaders and their mission system of domination from 1769 to 1834. Serra, and the Spanish officer Gaspar de Portolá, were the initial carriers of an imperil system of evil and maliciousness into Alta California, without just cause, that they used to commit harmful acts on behalf of the Spanish Catholic Empire.

To document the Catholic Church’s and Serra’s intention to commit acts of domination against the Native peoples, we must turn to some important documents issued by various popes during the fifteenth century, both prior to and after the first voyage of Columbus (“Cristobal Colón). The papal bull Inter Caetera, of 3 May 1493, has a peculiar sentence which identifies the nature of the deity Pope Alexander VI was invoking: “We trust in Him from whom empires and dominations and all good things proceed.”

No name is provided in that sentence, just the pronoun “Him” which indicates a male deity or spirit out of whom the deadly and destructive forces of empires and dominations issue forth. However, elsewhere in that same document, Pope Alexander said he was issuing a right of domination “by the authority of the omnipotent God” and by the authority of the “vicariate of Jesus Christ”:

we [the Holy See] of our own motion. . . of our own sheer liberal certain knowledge of the plenitude of Apostolic power give, concede, and assign the aforesaid lands and islands in general and in particular, unknown and up to this time discovered by your messengers and to be discovered in the future, which are not established under the actual temporal domination of any Christian dominators by the authority of the omnipotent God granted to us in Saint Peter and of the vicariate of Jesus Christ which we are executing on earth.

Pope Alexander VI, as the Supreme Head of the Roman Church, used the above wording to claim to be providing the Spanish monarchs with a presumed God-given right to establish their domination (“dominio”) over distant non-Christian lands. As Christian dominators (“dominorum Christianorum”), they were, by the authority of “God”, being called upon to establish a deadly and destructive system of domination over non-Christian lands discovered and to be discovered in the future.

It was this evil and malicious “mission” of domination that Junipero Serra and Gaspar de Portolá carried into the Kumeyaay Nation territory in 1769, and which they expanded northward from there. And this was all done with full faith that they had the assistance of “Him from whom” empires and dominations emerge.

In a letter he wrote in 1775, Serra said he hoped to see more “immense territories gathered into the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church and subjected to the crown of Spain.” The devout back then even called Mother Mary “La Conquistador” “the Conqueress of New Kingdoms.”

I would imagine that Archbishop Cordileone has never read the above quotes from the Inter Caetera papal bull of May 3, 1493. As I said to Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2016, after I gifted Pope Francis with a copy of my book, “With respect, I believe there is much of your own history you don’t know. Let me ask you this, Have you ever actually read the papal bulls?”

The Archbishop replied: “no, I must confess.” Perhaps Archbishop Cordileone would be willing to make his own confession on this point. Perhaps he ought to perform an exorcism on “Him” from whom empires and dominations proceed.

The fact of the matter is that Archbishop Cordileone and the Catholic Church hierarchy have not yet come to terms with the theology of domination documented in the Vatican papal bulls that are integral to Catholic and Christian evangelism. That theology is premised on a male deity (“Him”) who is behind the forward momentum of Christian empire and domination into the “Promised Land.” “Always forward never back,” vowed Serra.

The toll inflicted by the mission system’s theology of evil was spelled out by preeminent archaeologist Robert Heizer in an article he published in 1978. In that article, Heizer said the Spanish Catholic mission system was “scarcely a viable and self-perpetuating institution because it was nourished on a continuing fresh supply of human beings.”

He further said: “To continue to feed the furnace [of the mission system] would have required a military force of much greater power than was available to go further each year into the unconverted interior and bring back the human fuel.”

Historian David Stannard, in American Holocaust (1992), called the missions “furnaces of death.” The reason is that the Native population of an estimated 300,000 Native people when Serra first arrived, collapsed fifty percent to 150,000 Native people by 1834, a period of a mere sixty five years.

This death toll is the context for the toppling of the statue of Serra who entered the Kumeyaay Nation territory when he first arrived in 1769. From a Native viewpoint, that statue stood as a monument to the heinous tradition of the Spanish Catholic mission system which resulted in so much death and destruction.