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Pope Francis Apologizes For 'Grave Sins' Against Native People Of America


Pope Francis is continuing his South American tour today. In Bolivia, he reiterated his criticisms of global capitalism yesterday by apologizing to an audience for what he called grave sins that were committed against the native people of America in the name of God. And by America, he means North and South America. Rocco Palmo writes for Whispers in the Loggia, a religious blog that chronicles the Catholic Church. He's been covering Pope Francis's trip through the Americas, and he joins us now on the line. Welcome to the show.

ROCCO PALMO: Anytime. Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: And, Rocco, tell me more about this apology. What did the pope say, and who was he speaking to?

PALMO: Well, he was speaking to a group of around 5,000 workers in what are called social movements, or at least that's how they're grouped together by the church. It was a Vatican-sponsored conference. These are folks who are organizers for labor unions, community organizers, people who serve the poor and just the marginalized in general.

But what he was doing - and this wasn't just a Latin American group. It was, actually, a global group. In terms of the American continent, he apologized for the church's role in fomenting the abuse of native peoples as part of the so-called conquest of America - you know, colonization blessed by the church in the 14, 1500s. But what he did, significantly, was that he tied it to this searing critique of the global economic system, calling for change and revolution and saying that the way the global economy is carried out today represents a new colonialism that is just as abusive, that is just as exploitative and in which the downtrodden suffer.

MCEVERS: So this was a planned speech. This is not an off-the-cuff remark, as far as you understand it?

PALMO: Oh, this was anything but an off-the-cuff. And for Francis, who likes going off the cuff often, this is the most intensely written speech I've seen him give. It was almost an hour long in delivery. But showing that this was not frivolous remarks, in a rarity for him, it had numbered paragraphs and detailed footnotes at the end, which is the Vatican's way of saying this is to be seen not just in Bolivia or South America, but across the world, across the Church as a teaching document from the pope.

MCEVERS: Wow. And so what does that mean, then? How will it take on a life after this? Will it?

PALMO: Well, it'll take on a life - at least in terms of the Church - in several ways. Obviously the pope has given a significant B-12 shot, if you will, to the efforts these folks are doing in the grassroots at ground level, and it's going to encourage everyone who's involved in the Church and social ministry.

But in terms of the U.S., this is arguably the best curtain-raiser we're going to have for the speech the Pope's going to give to Congress during his visit here in late September. No pope has ever addressed Congress before, and already you have people on both sides of the aisle quaking in their boots about what he's going to say. And, you know, last night will comfort progressives, if you will - Democrats.

But at the same time, you know, the church is teaching in terms of condemning same-sex marriage and abortion, contraception are still there as well. And, you know, the job of a preacher, it's often said, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And that's what's Francis did last night in the Latin American context, and he's going to do it again in the U.S. in a couple months.

MCEVERS: That's Rocco Palmo. He writes for Whispers in the Loggia, a religious blog chronicling the Catholic Church. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

PALMO: Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.