In response to the indigenous population, the Vatican rejects the Doctrine of Discovery

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Thursday heeded indigenous demands and formally rejected the “discovery doctrine,” theories supported by 15th-century “papal bulls” that legalized colonial-era indigenous land grabs and form the basis of some property laws today.

A Vatican statement said the ordinances or papal decrees “do not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous people” and were never considered expressions of the Catholic faith.

The statement, issued by the Vatican’s Offices of Development and Education, represents a historic acknowledgment of the Vatican’s complicity in colonial-era abuses committed by European powers. Issued as the first pope in Latin America, he made a remarkable apology to indigenous peoples, and was hospitalized. with a respiratory infection.

Indigenous leaders welcomed the statement, although it continued to shy away from acknowledging the Vatican’s actual crime. The statement said the papal documents had been “manipulated” for political purposes by the colonial powers “to justify immoral acts against the indigenous population that were carried out, at times, without opposition from the ecclesiastical authorities”.

It was right, she said, to “acknowledge these wrongs”, to acknowledge the terrible effects of colonial-era assimilation policies on indigenous peoples, and to seek their forgiveness.

The statement was a response to decades of Aboriginal demands For the Vatican to formally annul the papal bulls who had given the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms religious support to expand their lands in Africa and the Americas in order to spread Christianity.

These ordinances support the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a legal concept formulated in an 1823 US Supreme Court decision that came to be understood to mean that ownership and sovereignty over land passed to Europeans because they “discovered” it.

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Recently cited as a 2005 Supreme Court decision concerning the Oneida Indian Nation written by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

During Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in 2022, where he apologized to indigenous peoples For a system of residential schools that forcibly removed Native children from their homes was met with demands for formal repudiation of the papal bulls..

Two Aboriginal women unfurled a banner on the altar of the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre National Shrine on July 29 that read: “Abolish the Doctrine” in bright red and black letters. The demonstrators were escorted away and the service continued without incident, although women later walked the banner out of the church and draped it over the railing.

In the statement, the Vatican said: “In no uncertain terms, the Magisterium of the Church maintains the respect due to every human being. The Catholic Church therefore renounces those concepts that do not recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has come to be known as the canonical ‘Doctrine of Discovery’.” and political.

Phil Fontaine, former national president of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada who was part of the delegation that met Francis in the Vatican before the trip and then accompanied him throughout, said the statement was “fantastic,” resolved an outstanding issue and is now bringing the matter to civil authorities to review property laws that cite by faith.

“The Holy Father has promised that upon his return to Rome they will begin work on a statement that is designed to assuage the anxieties and fears of the many survivors and others concerned with the relationship between their Catholic Church and our people, and he has done so,” Fontaine told The Associated Press.

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“The Church has done one thing, she said, for the Holy Father. Now the ball is in the court of the governments, the United States and Canada, but especially in the United States where the doctrine is enshrined in law.”

The Vatican has provided no evidence that the three papal bulls (Dom Diversas in 1452, Romanus Pontifex in 1455, and Inter Caetera in 1493) have been formally annulled, annulled, or rejected, as Vatican officials have often said. But it cited a later bull, Sublimis Deus in 1537, which reaffirmed that indigenous peoples should not be denied their liberty or possession of their property, nor be enslaved.

Cardinal Michael Cherny, the Canadian Jesuit whose office co-authored the manifesto, stressed that the original bulls had long since been abrogated and that the use of the term “doctrine” — in this case a legal rather than a religious term — has led to centuries of confusion about the role of the church.

Native bulls, he said, “are treated as if they were teachers, judicial or doctrinal documents, and are an ad hoc political move. I think the official disavowal of any ad hoc political move is to create more confusion, not clarity.”

He stressed that the statement was not only about correcting the historical record, but “to discover, identify, analyze and try to overcome what we can only call the lasting effects of colonialism today”.

It was significant that the repudiation of the “discovery doctrine” came during the reign of the first Pope in Latin America in history. Even before the Canadian trip, the Argentine pope apologized to the indigenous peoples of Bolivia in 2015 On the crimes of the colonial conquest of the Americas. He was released and is in hospital Thursday with a respiratory infection.

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Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonca, prefect of the Vatican’s Office of Culture, said the statement was a reflection of the Vatican’s dialogue with indigenous peoples.

He said, “This memorandum is part of what we might call the architecture of reconciliation and also a product of the art of reconciliation, the process whereby people commit themselves to listen to each other, to talk to each other, and to grow in mutual understanding.” in the current situation.


Rob Gillis contributed to this report from Toronto.

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