Sep 27, 2015 - Excusing Genocide: Pope Addresses Joint Session of Congress by Matt Remle
On September 24th, Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of the 114th Congress as part of his Apostolic Journey to the United States of America. His speech touched on themes that at times saw Democratic lawmakers rising to their feet in ovation and at other times bringing Republican lawmakers to their feet.
He spoke on themes he has previously spoke on including the need to address climate change and its impacts on the world’s poor, criticizing materialism to his opposition to gay marriage and abortion.
Mid-speech the Pope made mention of Indigenous peoples of these lands. Many thought that he would expand upon his apology he gave in Bolivia recently when he stated, “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America,” by perhaps renouncing the Catholic Doctrine of Discovery which paved the path for European Christian colonization, but he did not.
He said, “Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.” [Emphasis mine]
It is his last line that is most troubling, “it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”
For 500 years, Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have been subjected to a vicious and brutal campaign of genocide perpetrated by Europeans in their quest for mass colonization. A campaign of genocide that has seen horrific chapters of sheer brutality from Columbus’s men savagely hacking Native bodies to pieces to feed to their dogs to Chivington’s men parading through the streets of Denver proudly displaying genitalia of massacred Native bodies from the Sand Creek massacre to throngs of wildly cheering on-lookers.
500 years of gross injustices that has seen massive land and resource theft and the criminalization of Native spiritualties and languages. One that has seen the out-right theft of Native children to be placed in boarding schools and mission schools where they were subjected to wide spread physical, sexual and emotional violence, torture and even death. One that saw Native women being sterilized against their consent through the 1970’s.
The horrors of the American genocide is expansive and its impacts devastating and whose violations continue to this day. The goals of colonization since the issuing of the Doctrine of Discovery has always been one of removing indigenous populations to access and exploit lands and natural resources. The Tar Sands, Bakkan oil fields, coal extraction and exportation, numerous oil and gas pipelines, uranium mining projects continue to plague Native lands and livelihood to this day.
Currently there are thousands of missing and murdered 1st Nations women in Canada. It would seem that the criteria of the past, the colonial mentality that Native peoples are less than, is very much alive in 2015.
What’s troubling with his comment is that it allows Euro settlers to wipe their hands clean of its genocidal past and excuse it for its continued colonial settler campaigns of today. The goals of the Doctrine of Discovery persist.
Oh yeah, the very next day he canonized Father Junipero Serra, dubbed the ‘Columbus of California’ whom ushered in the vicious Missions in California that saw widespread enslavement of Native peoples, killings and removal from indigenous lands. Meet the new Pope, same as the old Pope.