EWTN Catholic Q&A
RE: Christopher Columbus
Question from Babs on 10-16-2013:

Dear Ms Arnold:

The response regarding Chistopher Columbus raises a question about defending the notion that he was a "Catholic hero."

Source documents make it clear that he, along with his men and with the specific approval of the pope, stole the land and its resources from the indigenous people encountered in the Western hemisphere. He also enslaved them and brought about their virtual extinction through slaughter and disease.

Are these the characteristics of a "Catholic hero" to be respected and honored?

Answer by Catholic Answers on 10-16-2013:


If you read carefully what I said about Columbus, you'll note that I said:

Christopher Columbus was chosen as a patron because he was believed to be an American hero who happened to be Catholic. When the Knights organized in 19th-century anti-Catholic New England, they wanted just such a Catholic hero to make the point that Catholics had been essential to the establishment of America (emphasis added).

In the 19th century when the Knights of Columbus was founded, Columbus was revered for his role in opening up the New World. He was chosen as a patron by the Knights of that time because at that time he was considered a "Catholic hero."

In the century or so since the Knights' foundation, historical scholarship has revealed that many of Columbus's actions in the New World -- while not unusual for the time in which he lived and taking into consideration the cultural assumptions that formed him -- were also far short of the heroic virtue to which Catholics are supposed to aspire. Nonetheless, Columbus does still belong to a pantheon of heroes of the Americas that are still venerated mainly because they suit our need for a noble founding myth. Most countries and cultures have their own noble founding myths, and few would stand the close scrutiny of historical criticism.

Michelle Arnold
Catholic Answers