Pope Francis apologizes for Church’s ‘colonial sins’ | Inquirer News

Pope Francis apologizes for Church’s ‘colonial sins’

, / 04:22 AM July 11, 2015

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia—Pope Francis offered a direct apology on Thursday for the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in the oppression of Latin America during the colonial era, even as he called for a global social movement to shatter a “new colonialism” that has fostered inequality, materialism and the exploitation of the poor.

Speaking to a hall filled with social activists, farmers, garbage workers and Bolivian indigenous people, Francis offered the most ambitious, and biting, address of his South American tour.


Beginning in the 1500s, Spanish conquerors, with the blessing of the Church, subjugated and enslaved indigenous peoples in the Americas, annihilating native cultures and forcing their conversion to Christianity.

Millions of people were killed by disease and millions more from a brutal system of forced labor that led to the destruction of their indigenous lands and their way of life.


He repeated familiar themes in sharply critiquing the global economic order and warning of environmental catastrophe—but also added a twist with his apology.

“Some may rightly say, ‘When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church,’” Francis said. “I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

He added: “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

Then deviating from his prepared script, he added: “I also want for us to remember the thousands and thousands of priests who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross. There was sin, and it was plentiful. But we never apologized, so I now ask for forgiveness. But where there was sin, and there was plenty of sin, there was also an abundant grace increased by the men who defended indigenous peoples.”

Francis, an Argentine, is the first Latin American Pope, and his apology comes as he is trying to position the Church as a refuge and advocate for the poor and dispossessed of his native continent.

World applause

His apology was met with wild applause from the indigenous and other grassroots groups gathered for a world summit of popular movements whose fight against injustice and social inequality has been championed by the Pope.


“We accept the apologies. What more can we expect from a man like Pope Francis?” said Adolfo Chavez, a leader of a lowlands indigenous group. “It’s time to turn the page and pitch in to start anew. We indigenous were never lesser beings.

The apology was significant given the controversy that has erupted in the United States over Francis’ planned canonization of the 18th century Spanish priest Junipero Serra, who set up missions across California.


Brutalizing conversion?

Native Americans contend Serra brutally converted indigenous people to Christianity, wiping out villages in the process, and have opposed his canonization.

The Vatican insists Serra defended natives from colonial abuses.

Francis’ apology was also significant given the controversy that blew up the last time a Pope visited the continent.

Benedict XVI drew heated criticism when, during a 2007 visit to Brazil, he defended the Church’s campaign to Christianize indigenous peoples.

He said the Indians of Latin America had been “silently longing” to become Christians when Spanish and Portuguese conquerors violently took over their lands.

Amid an outcry from indigenous groups, Benedict subsequently acknowledged that “shadows accompanied the work of evangelizing” the continent and said European colonizers inflicted “sufferings and injustices” on indigenous populations.

He didn’t apologize, though.

‘Patria Grande’

During his visit to Ecuador, and now Bolivia, Francis has made broad calls for Latin American unity—on Thursday mentioning “Patria Grande,” the historic ambition to make the continent a unified world force—even as he has sidestepped some local controversies.

Bolivia suffered stark exploitation during Spanish rule, as silver deposits helped finance the Spanish empire, bankroll European colonialism elsewhere and also fill the treasury of the Vatican.

Praise from leftist critic

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, is a longtime leftist critic of the Church, yet on Thursday he spoke before the Pope and praised him.

Morales, a fierce critic of American corporate influence, wore a white shirt and a dark jacket bearing a picture of the communist revolutionary Che Guevara on the left breast.

“For the first time, I feel like I have a Pope: Pope Francis,” Morales said.

Francis has filled four consecutive days with appearances, but other than an environmental critique offered in Ecuador, the Pope had hewed mostly to theological topics or broad themes like family, service and mission.

Help for the poor

His appearance on Thursday night was at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, a congress of global activists working to mobilize and help the poor.

Some people wore Che Guevara T-shirts while some indigenous women wore traditional black bowlers.

Francis drew cheers when he called on the activists and others to change the social order: “I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three Ls—labor, lodging, land.”

Francis repeated his condemnation of an economic system rooted in pursuit of money and profits, but in an aside he criticized “certain free-trade treaties” and “austerity, which always tightens the belt of workers and the poor”—a likely reference to Greece.

“Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money,” he said. “Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”

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TAGS: Christianity, Latin America, Pope Francis, Roman Catholic Church
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