SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) – Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said the “justice system is working” following the arraignment of five people on charges of felony vandalism for toppling a St Junipero Serra statue outside a Catholic church last October.
This matter “will soon rest in the hands of a judge or jury”, the archbishop said.
Protesters say the saint mistreated indigenous people as a missionary in what is today California, but Catholic leaders and historians dispute such claims, pointing to his care of indigenous people and his respect for them.
The Serra statue outside Mission San Rafael in San Rafael, in the San Francisco Archdiocese, was desecrated with red paint and toppled, leaving just the saint’s feet in place.
The five people, each charged with one count of felony vandalism, pleaded not guilty. They are all from California and identified by the media as Ines Shiam Gardilcic, 40, and Victoria Eva Montanopena, 29, both of Oakland; Melissa Aguilar, 36, of Novato; Marjorie Nadeska Delgadillo, 36, of San Rafael; and Moira Cribben Van de Walker, 25 of San Anselmo.
The activists are being called the #IndigenousPeoples5, or the “IP 5,” by their supporters, who are demanding Marin County drop all charges against the five indigenous women.
Pope Francis canonised St Junipero Serra on American soil in 2015.
St. Junipero’s “dedication to protecting the native peoples of California is documented by historians,” Archbishop Cordileone said, but “nevertheless – sadly and falsely – to some St Junipero has become a symbol of the terrible human rights abuses committed against California indigenous peoples by Spanish conquerors and later the genocide perpetrated on them by the Anglo Americans who governed California.”
“To heal and unite is not easy; it requires dialogue with goodwill, honesty and humility, and above all putting aside violence as a response,” Archbishop Cordileone added.
Photo: San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone conducts an exorcism at Mission San Rafael in California on October 17, 2020, at the place where vandals tore down a St Junipero Serra statue five days previously. (CNS photo)