The logic may not seem to follow, but Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is calling out the San Francisco 49ers as a candidate for a team name change in order to make a point about why the legacy of Father Junipero Serra is not worthy of "canceling."
Cordileone has been quite vocal ever since protesters tore down a statue of 18th Century Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park, suggesting that Saint Junipero — Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015 — was no genocidal colonizer but was, in fact, a defender of indigenous people in California. Now, in a Chronicle op-ed, Cordileone argues that the Forty-Niners, as Gold Rush prospectors were collectively known, have native blood on their hands too, and perhaps like the Washington Redskins they should consider changing the franchise's name.
"Most of the Forty-Niners did not strike gold and get rich. So they reverted to farming, often simply seizing land from the Indians and in some cases killing or enslaving them," Cordileone writes. "The California government actively aided this carnage."
And he goes on to point out that Stanford University founder and eight governor of California, Leland Stanford, "continued the genocidal policies of his predecessors" when it came to encouraging the killing of Native Americans. And he "opposed Chinese immigrants on the explicitly racist grounds they were 'an inferior race.'"
Cordileone draws on this recent piece in The Nation by Stanford history professor Richard White, which is a review of a new book called An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe by Benjamin Madley. After reading Madley's book, White says it's hard to be supportive of this year's fundraising drive in honor of the 125th anniversary of the founding of Stanford, all while a committee is responding to student concerns about the legacy of Serra and anything that is named after him. "In light of Benjamin Madley’s An American Genocide, the juxtaposition of reconsidering Junípero Serra while glorifying Leland Stanford makes for an odd California moment, even by Palo Alto standards."
Cordileone issued a statement following the toppling of the Golden Gate Park statue, saying, "St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers. All of this is not to deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed."
The archbishop went on to host a highly theatrical "exorcism" at the empty pedestal that once held the statue, calling its toppling an act of the Devil.
He doesn't seem serious about wanting the 49ers to be renamed. Cordileone writes, "Does the name '49ers' honor a generation that committed unspeakable crimes against a vulnerable population, or does it refer to a pivotal moment of history that defined the life of our city then and far into the future? Such decisions should be made, not in the wake of acts of vandalism perpetrated by bands of aggrieved citizens, but in the context of reasoned debate based on historical accuracy and the weighing of moral principles."
But he doesn't actually care about the football team's name. He just cares that the pope sees he's still defending Saint Serra.
Photo via Rock On Sports