Unnecessary Contrition

News: Commentary
by Raymond de Souza, KHS, KofC  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 12, 2022   

Apologizing for new world colonization

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Pope Francis made an eyebrow-raising apology in 2015.

He said his mea culpa in Bolivia for the "sins and crimes of the Catholic Church against the indigenous peoples during the colonial conquest of the Americas." 

"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. There was sin and an abundant amount of it," he said.

Shockingly, the president of Bolivia, the communist Evo Morales, gave His Holiness a crucifix shaped like a hammer and sickle.

Famous painting portraying Mass in Brazil

In my estimation, Francis made a hasty generalization that did not mention all the good done by Spain and Portugal to the native peoples of the Americas. As a Brazilian-born Catholic, I felt I should address the issue.

Abuse: Normal or an Aberration?

In every human undertaking, however good and holy it may be, you always find sporadic abuses. In the Crusades, in the Inquisition and even in the papacy and the Vatican themselves, today there are abuses. The higher the position, the more scandalous the abuse becomes.

But the basic principle is abusus non tollit usum, "abuse doesn't destroy the use" — in other words, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. When we see the widespread sodomy among the ranks of the clergy today, we cannot say the presbyterate and episcopacy are per se homosexually oriented. Of course not. Even if a large number of clerics are gay, sodomy is not part and parcel of the Catholic ordained life; it's only an abuse of it.

Church officials have long insisted Catholic missionaries protect indigenous peoples.

Church officials have long insisted Catholic missionaries protect indigenous peoples from the abuses of colonizers and, as a result, were often punished by European colonial powers. Yet the herculean effort of the missionaries to bring the light of Christ into the dark paganism of the native Indians revealed the incomparable value of European influence.


Communist Evo Morales gave Pope Francis

 a crucifix shaped like a hammer and sickle

The first thing the much-maligned Hernán Cortés did in Mexico was to abolish human sacrifice. I hope the pope did not intend to criticize the Spaniards for interfering with the local culture and imposing Christian respect for human life.

Francis' own Jesuit order developed missions across the continent, educating the indigenous and turning their communities into organized Christian-Indian societies.

Our Lady of Guadalupe singlehandedly converted millions of Aztecs, completing the work of the missionaries.


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When the Portuguese navigators arrived in Brazil, one of their first orders of business was the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass — in thanksgiving and to ask for blessings on the new land, which was named Land of the Holy Cross before it was changed to Brazil.

The Papal Perspective

Over the years, popes had quite different views about the efforts of Spain and Portugal to Christianize and also civilize the natives.

In his encyclical Quarto Abeunte Saeculo, of July 16, 1892, Pope Leo XIII, the pope of Catholic social justice, wrote about the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America:

By [Christopher Columbus'] toil, another world emerged from the unsearched bosom of the ocean: Hundreds of thousands of mortals have, from a state of blindness, been raised to the common level of the human race, reclaimed from savagery to gentleness and humanity; and, greatest of all, by the acquisition of those blessings of which Jesus Christ is the author, they have been recalled from destruction to eternal life. ...

There is no doubt that the Catholic faith was the strongest motive for the inception and prosecution of the design. ...

Considering these things, therefore, in his mind, [Columbus] sought, first of all, to extend the Christian name and the benefits of Christian charity to the West, as is abundantly proved by the history of the whole undertaking. ...

He saw in spirit a mighty multitude, cloaked in miserable darkness, given over to evil rites and the superstitious worship of vain gods. Miserable it is to live in a barbarous state and with savage manners, but more miserable to lack the knowledge of that which is highest and to dwell in ignorance of the one true God. ...

This, then, was the object, this the end Columbus had in view in traversing such a vast extent of land and water to discover those countries hitherto uncultivated and inaccessible, but which, afterwards, as we have seen, have made such rapid strides in civilization and wealth and fame.

Before him, in June of 1871, Bl. Pius IX affirmed in an allocution to a commission of Spanish Catholics:

Spain has always shown a special predilection for the Apostolic See, and it has spared no effort to carry Christian civilization to all nations of the globe. The Spanish flag has flown over the seas of the Americas, India and other regions as a symbol of the Faith in Jesus Christ. … For this reason, Spain was great in former times because it founded its grandeur to propagate the Christian religion — to serve it and to defend it at the price of great sacrifices.

Also speaking of Spain, Pope Pius XII said in a 1946 speech commemorating the country's commemoration of the Assumption dogma:

We give thanks from the depth of our hearts to the Blessed Trinity and to Our Lord Jesus Christ for all the benefits of the Catholic faith and the Christian culture which, in the course of the centuries, have been spread by the mother nation, deposit of religious forces, to its vast possessions overseas.

Pope Benedict XVI, during a 2007 visit to Brazil, defended the Church's campaign to Christianize indigenous peoples. He said the Indians of Latin America were "silently longing" to become Christians until the Spaniards and the Portuguese arrived.

In short, the mission of Spain and Portugal was to bring to the natives of the Americas the Faith of Jesus Christ as well as the benefits of Christian civilization. As pointed out before, occasional local abuses happened. People were indeed mistreated at certain times and in certain places.

But if the Holy See is to apologize for every sin and abuse, then an apology would be in order from the first Jesuit pope for what members of his order have done in recent years to scandalize the faithful.

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