Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pope Benedict - Inserts Foot-in-Mouth on Conquest

Here in Mexico, where I'm spending a few weeks teaching in a study-abroad program, it's estimated that 90 percent of the population is Catholic.

So news of the Pope Benedict XVI's latest faux pas (in his two years at the Church's helm Benedict has shown a surprising propensity for inserting his foot in his mouth - remember last September's furor surrounding his comments on Mohammed's "evil and inhuman" teachings?), at the end of his visit to Brazil last week, is of more than passing interest here.

As reported by Reuters, Benedict commented in Brazil that the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and that tribal Indians welcomed the arrival of European priests at the time of the Conquest - notwithstanding the millions of deaths to Latin America's indigenous peoples through slaughter, disease and enslavement at the hands of the Europeans - as they were 'silently longing' for Christianity.

Benedict's "arrogant and disrespectful" comments have prompted an uproar among many Indian leaders, politicians, human rights advocates, and even members of the Church in Latin America. "The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible," Father Paulo Suess of the Church's own Indian advocacy group in Brazil told Reuters. "I too was upset."

Contrast Benedict's comments to those of Pope John Paul II, whose 1992 remarks on the mistakes of the Church's evangelization of native peoples - where priests regularly blessed conquistadors as they rampaged through the Americas, for example - were considered by many as an apology, prompting one tribal leader, Dionito Jose de Souza, to ask, "The state used the Church to do the dirty work in colonizing the Indians but they already asked forgiveness for that ... so is the Pope taking back the Church's word?"

Stay tuned.