HONEY, I SHRUNK THE CHURCH. It seems as if Pope Benedict XVI is really out to prove his philosophy that he's willing to accept a smaller, but more loyal flock for the Roman Catholic Church. Among the loyalty tests -- aside from the traditionally misogynist stands against women in the priesthood and reproductive rights for women -- one rarely discussed appears to have roiled to the surface: acceptance of Western civilization and culture as superior to all others.

Yesterday, as his Brazilian sojourn drew to a close, Benedict described the forced conversions and massacres of Brazil's native peoples by European conquerors as their "purification." So reports Raymond Colitt of Reuters:

[Brazil's indigenous people] had welcomed the arrival of European priests at the time of the conquest as they were "silently longing" for Christianity, he said.

If a 21st-century religious leader can justify murder and enslavement in the name of Christ, there's no telling what else he may find justifiable. Particularly telling is reaction of Brazilian Indians who are Catholic, as well as the priests who minister to them. "The Pope doesn't understand the reality of the Indians here, his statement was wrong and indefensible," Father Paulo Suess, who runs the Brazilian church's advocacy group for the indigenous, told Colitt. "I too was upset."

As if, on their face, the pope's remarks weren't bad enough, they appear to be the answer he chose to give to the group of Indians who wrote to him, "asking for his support in defending their ancestral lands and culture. They said the Indians had suffered a 'process of genocide' since the first European colonizers had arrived," according to Reuters. Genocide? Wait -- no, says Benedict, make that "purification."

CLARIFICATION: The pope said Baptism "made them children of God by adoption... purifying (emphasis added) them and developing the numerous seeds that the incarnate Word had planted in them, thereby guiding them along the paths of the Gospel. In effect, 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..."

My intention was to convey the pope's message as it was perceived by the Indians (and me), not to suggest that he had said verbatim that the genocide of the Indians amounted to their purification. In other words, when the pope said the Indians were purified by Baptism, and that the "proclamation of Jesus..did not... involve the alienation of pre-Columbus cultures," what he is saying in effect is that forced conversions of Indians by the violent means by which so many were done, resulted in the Indians' purification.

Any way you slice it, the pope appears to be condoning the enslavement, murder and forced conversions of Indians by European invaders.

--Adele M. Stan

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