Opinion: Pope Benedict turns back the clock

"News reports demonstrate that Pope Benedict is ignoring history and the violent cultural and religious oppression of indigenous peoples around the world by European Christians. Speaking to Latin American bishops in Brazil on May 13, the Pope cited the "rich religious traditions" of Indian people but added that their ancestors were "silently longing" for Christ and seeking God "without realizing it." Pope Benedict further demonstrated his misunderstanding of history and the forced conversions of natives in North, Central and South America and of massacres and "just wars" when he suggested that the Church did not impose itself on indigenous peoples and that Christianity had not been detrimental to them and their cultures. "In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of His Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture." Benedict also added that a return to indigenous religions "would be a step back."

In sharp contrast to Benedict's comments, Pope John Paul noted in 1992 the mistakes that were made in the conversion of the native peoples of the Americas. Moreover, President Bush, while speaking on Sunday at the 400th commemoration of the Jamestown settlement, lamented the negative effects that European colonization had on the Indian tribes in Virginia. President Bush apparently would not agree with Pope Benedict's comments that native cultures were not injured by European colonization and evangelism because Bush stated: "The expansion of Jamestown came at a terrible cost to the native tribes of the region, who lost their lands and their way of life."

Not surprisingly, Pope Benedict's comments angered Indian leaders in Brazil. This is understandable, especially in light of the fact that several Indian groups had written the Pope just last week asking for his help in defending their lands and cultures. Jecinaldo Satere Mawe, a spokesman for Coiab, an Indian rights group in Brazil, called the Pope's comments "arrogant and disrespectful." A spokesman for the Makuxi Tribe, Dionito Jose de Souza, said the Pope was trying to erase the "dirty work" of colonization. Another Indian leader, Sandro Tuxa, called the remarks "offensive, and frankly, frightening.""

Get the Story:
Robert J. Miller: Pope Benedict: Ignoring Cultural and Religious Oppression in the New World (History News Network 5/20)

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