Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) slammed the statue of a Roman Catholic saint that adorns the Capitol as an example of “what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like,” in a Thursday Instagram post.
Recording footage of a statue depicting Father Damien of Molokai, which is one of the two statues Hawaii has in the Capitol, Ocasio-Cortez explained her distaste for it, writing, “Even when we select figures to tell the stories of colonized places, it is the colonizers and settlers whose stories are told — and virtually no one else. Check out Hawaii’s statue.”
. @AOC calls the statue in the US capitol building of Father Damien, a canonized saint in the Catholic Church, a part of “white supremacist culture.”
Father Damien died of leprosy after spending his life serving others who had the disease. pic.twitter.com/NVnfCN7EVK
— John Gage (@johnrobertgage) July 31, 2020
It’s not Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, the only Queen Regnant of Hawaii, who is immortalized and whose story is told. It is Father Damien. This isn’t to litigate each and every individual state, but to point out the patterns that have emerged among the totality of them in who we are taught deify in our nation’s Capitol; virtually all men, all white, and mostly both. This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like! It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture & how it impacts the present day.
St. Damien of Molokai, a Belgian priest who was canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, was born Jozef De Veusterin in 1840 and achieved fame for his missionary work to the Kingdom of Hawaii. For 16 years he ministered to an isolated settlement of lepers until he eventually contracted the disease himself. He continued to care for the community until he eventually died of leprosy in 1889. He is considered to be the patron saint of lepers and outcasts, and the day he died is still commemorated in Hawaii on April 15.
Ocasio-Cortez’s complaint about the statues in the Capitol comes the week after Congress voted to remove all statues in the building that depict figures from the Confederacy. Also slated for removal was a bust of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the Old Supreme Court Chamber, whose 1857 Dred Scott decision maintained that the rights of U.S. citizenship do not extend to black people.
Earlier this week, a liberal Catholic reporter wrote a widely disseminated op-ed for The National Catholic Reporter arguing that “AOC is the future of the Catholic Church.” Appealing to Ocasio-Cortez’s recent speech on the House floor condemning Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) for allegedly calling her “dangerous” and “a f***ing b**ch,” Heidi Schlumpf claimed the congresswoman’s passion for dignity and social justice come from her “Catholic values.”
“As a young Latina, Ocasio-Cortez represents the demographic future of the Catholic Church,” Schlumpf also wrote. “But — if there is to be a future for the Catholic Church in the United States — it must also resemble Ocasio-Cortez in her passion for justice and human dignity, and in her courage and integrity, even in the face of vulgar attacks.”
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