Back when the Pope was being criticized for his Regensburg University speech which contained some not-well-thought-out comments on Islam, I argued that many of the Pope’s critics were missing the point. Indeed, I agreed with the Catholic Peace Fellowship blog when they suggested that the Pope meant to criticize Christianity just as much as Islam.
I didn’t have that same sympathy for the Pope last week when he commented on the Church’s role in the history of colonization in Latin America. Benedict angered indigenous groups when he stated that “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,” and that the continent was “silently longing” for the Christian faith. The Pope’s comments seemed incredibly naive given the unity of religion and imperial violence that is simply a sad matter of historical fact. John Allen reported that
Thankfully, Benedict has apparently made an attempt to clarify “what he meant” yesterday in a speech in Rome, acknowledging that it is “not possible to forget the suffering and the injustices inflicted by colonizers against the indigenous population, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled.”
Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil’s Indian Missionary Council, said the pope “is a good theologian, but it seems he missed some history classes.” Marcio Meira, who heads Brazil’s federal Indian Bureau, said, “As an anthropologist and a historian I feel obliged to say that, yes, in the past 500 years there was an imposition of the Catholic religion on the indigenous people.”
John Allen comments that “In that light, the pope’s comments today suggest that when Benedict said on Sunday that Christ was not an ‘imposition,’ he meant the teachings of Christianity, not the concrete behavior of Christian colonizers – whom, Benedict admitted, were sometimes guilty of ‘unjustifiable crimes.'”