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SPOKANE, Wash. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Washington State prelate is condemning the toppling of a statue of St. Junípero Serra in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
On Monday, Spokane bishop Thomas Daly issued a statement about the June 19 incident, in which the 112-year-old sculpture was pulled down and defiled.
"As a native of California, the destruction of a statue of St. Junípero Serra deeply troubles me," the Washington priest said. "The Church, by no means, desires injustice to go unanswered, but two wrongs do not make a right."
"In the process ... to right historical wrongs, the stories we tell ourselves about the past often have to be examined," he granted. "At this moment, many are calling for the removal of statues of certain historical figures, which can certainly be debated."
But he added, "If we cannot acknowledge the good of a saint such as Junípero Serra, we risk preferring ideology to the truth."
Daly urged readers to see in the saint "a great example of the legacy" which sees "all united in Christ where there is no Greek or Jew, there is no division, and all are seen and treated as the unique and beloved children of God the Father."
He said the saint was "flawed like all of us, but striving with heroic virtue toward a vision of reconciliation and faith."
He highlighted St. Junípero's efforts to protect from harm the natives at the missions and to offer them what he treasured most in the world, a saving relationship with Jesus Christ."
St. Junípero has been criticized for using the labor of indigenous people to build his missions.
Two days before Daly released his statement, Abp. Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco issued his own.
Cordileone began with a question many are asking: "What is happening to our society?"
In an attempt to answer his own question, the prelate spoke of a "hijacking": "A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism."
Like Daly, Cordileone acknowledged the importance of an examination of history and discussion with those who don't share our views. "The memorialization of historic figures merits an honest and fair discussion as to how and to whom such honor should be given," he said. But "there was no such rational discussion."
"It was mob rule, a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country," he said.
San Francisco mayor London Breed spoke to the need to acknowledge misgivings of the past, saying, "There is very real pain in this country rooted in our history of slavery and oppression, especially against African Americans and indigenous people."
"But," she added, "the damage done to our park went far beyond just the statues that were torn down, and included significant damage to Golden Gate Park."
Saint Junípero's feast day is July 1. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 2015. He was the first saint to be canonized on U.S. soil.
"Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life," Francis said in his homily during the canonization Mass at Catholic University in Washington. "He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life."
To date, the pope has not commented on the destruction of the statue of the saint he canonized.
Daly, meanwhile, urged Americans to devote themselves to building up their country:
Tearing down statues of St. Junípero represents a perilous trend of demonizing the good works of others in the name of ideology. Such destruction reveals a dangerous capacity in the human heart for hatred of the other. It risks unleashing the worst of humanity. Christians and all people of goodwill ought to look for ways to build, not destroy.
The Spokane prelate ended his statement with a prayer: "St. Junípero, pray for us that we may continue to build a civilization of peace and justice."