Marin Voice: DA should uphold the law fairly for all, Catholics included

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

Published in the Marin Independent Journal

In a Columbus Day press conference, activists called on Marin County District Attorney Lori Frugoli to drop all the charges against the five people who trespassed onto the parish grounds of Mission San Rafael with ropes and paint to deface a statue of Junípero Serra. The five have been charged with felony vandalism (destruction of property worth more than $1,000) and their case is slowly winding its way through the Marin County courts.

According to reports by the local media, it appears these vandals’ defenders are essentially saying that Serra is such a monster that they are entitled to destroy other people’s sacred objects to call attention to historical abuses.

You don’t have to be Catholic, or agree with my views on Serra, to recognize that this is wrong and intolerable in a free and diverse society.

I repeat what I have said before: The people advocating this negative view of Serra don’t know the man Pope Francis canonized in 2015.

According to my studies, Serra renounced a comfortable life as a university professor to cross an ocean and serve the Indigenous peoples by bringing them the best thing he knew: faith in Jesus Christ.

He defended them, and not without great personal sacrifice, against the Spanish soldiers who committed human rights abuses. He educated them. Then, with their help, they built the beautiful mission churches, inventing a style of architecture together that is still widely admired today. When he died, Spaniards and Indians alike mourned his passing. All things considered, he is a model of what those who call for racial justice say we should act like.

It is my understanding that the missions were secularized by the Mexican government and the Franciscans were ordered to leave before they could realize their vision of handing the mission property over to the Indians for their own self-governance. And then the real genocide began, perpetrated not by gentle Franciscan friars but by California political elites whose names and statues still line our state Capitol.

The prosecution of the Serra statue vandals is not — or not only — a debate about him; it is about our own standards of how we treat each other when we disagree.

Regardless of how much anyone may disagree with Muslims’ views of the Prophet Muhammed, we do not advocate for the right of vandals to trespass on a mosque and deface their sacred space to express a dissenting point of view. We would never say that those who disagree with the Israeli government can enter a synagogue and obliterate the Star of David to express their grievances.

In 2006, Bishop Francis Quinn conducted a moving service in which he apologized for cruelties committed against Miwok people by church officials. I join him in this. I would hope it might motivate others responsible for human rights abuses against the Indigenous people of California to do the same.

In Serra’s case, he left a legacy of thousands of spiritual children, many of whom remain practicing Catholics. They are a long part of the fabric of the Catholic community in the Bay Area and beyond. The prosecution of the Serra statute vandals is fundamentally about people of all faiths, and none, coming together to defend the rights of all.

The job of a district attorney is to uphold the law fairly for all, Catholics included, and we thank Frugoli for doing her duty.

It has been written that restorative justice should be considered. To date, the perpetrators of the crime have not asked me to explore restorative justice. The first condition of restorative justice is that the person who committed the crime takes responsibility and admits the wrongdoing and apologizes for the offense inflicted. The next step is for both parties to seek mutual understanding, and then for the offender or offenders to make reparation.

I would rejoice and be grateful to begin such a journey of reconciliation with the Serra statue vandals. However, if the press conference last month is any indication, I fear that this is not something in which they or their supporters are interested.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone leads the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, serving Marin, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.