SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Archbishop Salvadore Cordileone criticized the pulling down of the Junipero Serra statue in Golden Gate Park.

“What is happening to our society? A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism,” he said in a statement Saturday night.

Serra was an 18th century Catholic priest who founded nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions and is credited with bringing Catholicism to the Western United States.

Serra is accused of forcing Native Americans to stay at those missions after they were converted or face brutal punishment. His statues have been defaced in California for several years by people who claim he destroyed tribes and their culture.

However, Cordileone said Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers.

“Even with his infirmed leg which caused him such pain, he walked all the way to Mexico City to obtain special faculties of governance from the Viceroy of Spain in order to discipline the military who were abusing the Indians. And then he walked back to California. And lest there be any doubt, we have a physical reminder to this day: everywhere there is a presidio (soldiers’ barracks) associated with a mission in the chain of 21 missions that he founded, the presidio is miles away from the mission itself and the school. St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: The knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts,” the archbishop said.

“All of this is not to deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed. But just as historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden, neither can they be righted by re-writing the history. Anger against injustice can be a healthy response when it is that righteous indignation which moves a society forward. But as Christ himself teaches, and St. Francis modeled, love and not rage is the only answer,” Cordileone continued.

The archbishop said that for the past 800 years, various Franciscan orders of brothers, sisters and priests that trace their inspiration back to St. Francis “have been exemplary of not only serving, but identifying with, the poor and downtrodden and giving them their rightful dignity as children of God. St. Junipero Serra is no exception.”

The Spanish embassy to the United States also weighed in on the destruction of the Serra statue, as well as the vandalism of a bust of writer Miguel de Cervantes.

“We deeply regret the destruction of the statue of Saint Junípero Serra in San Francisco today, and would like to offer a reminder of his great efforts in support of indigenous communities,” the embassy tweeted.

“It is also with great regret that we receive the news of the damages inflicted upon the bust of Miguel de Cervantes, who was himself held as a slave in Algiers for 5 years, and whose literature serves as a call for freedom and equality,” it added in another tweet.

“Defending the Spanish legacy in the U.S. is a priority of our foreign policy in this country, and we will continue to do so by intensifying our educational efforts in order for the reality of our shared history to be better known and understood,” the embassy continued. “We are also expressing our deep concern regarding these attacks to federal, state, and local authorities, asking that the memory of our rich shared history be protected, always with the utmost respect for the debates currently taking place.”

Associated Press material was used in this report.