11 May 2008

The Catholic Church and the destruction of America's civilizations

Wherever the Spanish conquerors went they were accompanied by friars, whose role was to bring Christianity to the heathens. The Dominican order made missionary activity during the conquest one of its primary undertakings.

There is no doubt that some Dominican friars tried to soften the treatment of the indigenous people by the conquerors and prevented the worst excesses. But there is also no denying that even such intellectual interest as the study of indigenous languages (mainly to enable the Christian gospel to be preached in the local vernacular) was aimed at the final destruction of a "pagan" civilization. Any historical assessment of the role of Christianity has to admit that the muskets and guns of the conquistadors were not the only instruments that brought great civilizations to an end but also the book burnings and destruction of places of worship by the representatives of the Church.

The Convent of San Esteban in Salamanca, Spain, was and remains the centre of the Dominican mission. It features a display of the Dominican role in the conquest of South America. There are exhibits of souvenirs brought back by Dominican missionaries, but one searches in vain for any indication of regret for what happened under their spiritual supervision. Instead, vague and obfuscating texts attempt to conceal their contribution to the destruction of great civilizations.

A book exhibit "San Esteban, Search and Encounter; America, the universalist Dominican vocation" declares: "The world expanded itself, and it became necessary to invent new norms. What was known and understood was no longer sufficient. The search for the truth extended itself to the other side of the ocean." The main inscription on the wall of the Convent is more direct; it concedes that it was not the world that drove the action by expanding itself, admits that actions involved people, and identifies the actors: "The thoughts and the action of the Dominicans of San Esteban in America demonstrate that the battle for the freedom and the dignity of all people is the way to the TRUTH – And the only medium: the WORD." The South American Indians should be thankful for the freedom and dignity they received!

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