In a far-reaching speech in Bolivia on Thursday, Pope Francis offered his apologies to, and begged forgiveness from, the native people of the Americas as he acknowledged the brutal treatment they received throughout the so-called “conquest of America.”
In a speech that also touched on the need to rapidly move away from the destructive model of unbridled capitalism—which he described as the “dung of the devil”—Francis went much further than any of his predecessors in accounting for the crimes of the Church while it pursued and perpetuated colonialism and oppression across Latin America and beyond over the last five centuries.
“This system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable. The earth itself – our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say – also finds it intolerable.”
— Pope Francis
“I wish to be quite clear,” said Francis. “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.” He added, “There was sin and an abundant amount of it.”
In response, it was reported, the large crowd offered rousing applause.
The speech was delivered to a regional gathering of Indigenous people and social justice activists attending the Second World Meeting of the Popular Movements and followed remarks from Bolivian President Evo Morales—the nation’s first-ever Indigenous person to hold the office.
Following his remarks, Adolfo Chavez, a leader of a lowlands Indigenous group, told reporters, “We accept the apologies. What more can we expect from a man like Pope Francis? It’s time to turn the page and pitch in to start anew. We Indigenous were never lesser beings.”