Archbishop performs exorcism to cleanse protest site

The archbishop of San Francisco performed a short exorcism ceremony Saturday outside a church where protesters had earlier toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- The archbishop of San Francisco performed a short exorcism ceremony Saturday outside a Catholic church where protesters had earlier toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra, saying the ceremony was intended to drive out evil and defend the image of 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.

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.

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 is north of San Francisco, in the county of Marin.