Catholic church leader performs ‘exorcism’ to cleanse California protest site

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SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The Archbishop of San Francisco performed an exorcism in the city of San Rafael Saturday following vandalism that destroyed a statue of a famed Catholic missionary.

The feet are the only thing left of the statue of St. Junipero Serra after it was vandalized at St. Rafael Mission Church in San Rafael on Oct. 12. The location is one of 21 catholic mission compounds strung through California during the colonial era. Mission San Rafael is less than 20 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge from Mission San Francisco.

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.

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.

Saying the ceremony was intended to drive out evil and defend the image of Serra, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone performed the ritual before some 150 supporters on Saturday. The group also held a special Mass inside St. Raphael Catholic Church and an expected march to a Planned Parenthood clinic, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

A video of the exorcism was posted to YouTube.

Despite characterizations in popular culture, the newspaper reports that exorcism is more commonly a solemn ceremony to evict the devil or evil spirits from an area or person.

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.”

San Rafael 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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