Archbishop performs exorcism to cleanse protest site

San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone conducts an exorcism Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, outside of Saint Raphael Catholic Church on the spot where a statue of St. Junipero Serra was toppled during a protest on Oct. 12. (Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco resorted to an exorcism ceremony to deter protestors outside a catholic church on Saturday (October 17). The protestors had toppled the statue of Father Junipero Serra.

Serra was an 18th-century Spanish missionary priest and the father of the California mission system.

The Franciscan priest has long been praised by the church for bringing Roman Catholicism to what is now the western United States, but critics highlight a darker side to his legacy. In converting Native Americans to Catholicism, critics say he forced them to abandon their culture or face brutal punishment.

But archbishop Cordileone’s exorcism ceremony was intended to drive out the protestors’ evil and defend the image of Serra.

Cordileone said prayers in Latin, remarking that “the experts in the field tell me that Latin tends to be more effective against the devil because he doesn’t like the language of the church.”

Depictions of Serra have been protested and vandalized over the years, and Pope Francis’ decision in 2015 to elevate him to sainthood reopened old wounds. More recently, protests focusing on the rights and historical struggle of Black and Indigenous people led activists to topple statues of Serra in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Police say they arrested five people on vandalism charges for knocking over the statue on Monday, leaving just the feet attached to the base. The statue is being repaired and will be returned.