In response to indigenous people, the Vatican rejects the Discovery Doctrine

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Thursday responded to natives’ demands, formally rejecting the “doctrine of discovery,” the theories advanced by “papal bulls” from the 15 Some property laws today.

A Vatican statement said the papal bulls or decrees “do not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples” and have never been considered an expression of the Catholic faith.

The statement by the Vatican’s development and education authorities marked a historic acknowledgment of the Vatican’s own complicity in colonial-era abuses perpetrated by European powers. It was published under the first Latin American pope in history, who was hospitalized on Thursday with a respiratory infection, exactly a year after Francis met with indigenous leaders from Canada at the Vatican, who raised the issue.

On Thursday, these indigenous leaders hailed the statement as a good first step, although it did not address the lifting of the cops themselves and continued to distance themselves from acknowledging the Vatican’s actual culpability for abuses. The statement said the papal documents had been “manipulated” by competing colonial powers for political ends “to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples, at times carried out without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”

It is right to “acknowledge these mistakes”, to recognize the terrible effects of the colonial era’s assimilation policies on the indigenous peoples and to ask their forgiveness.

The statement was a response to Decades of indigenous claims that the Vatican formally repeal the papal bulls that offered the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms religious support for the expansion of their territories in Africa and America for the purpose of spreading Christianity.

These decrees underpin the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a legal concept coined in an 1823 US Supreme Court decision, which is now understood to mean that ownership and sovereignty over land passed to Europeans for having “discovered” it.

It was only cited in a 2005 Supreme Court decision involving the Oneida Indian Nation, authored by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

During Pope Francis’ visit to Canada in 2022, where he apologized to the indigenous peoples For the residential school system, which forcibly removed local children from their homes, he was met with calls for a formal one Rejection of the papal bulls.

Two indigenous women unfurled a banner at the altar of the national shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré on July 29 that read: “Recant the teaching” in bright red and black letters.

Earlier, Oneida Nation’s Michelle Schenandoah urged the Vatican to lift the papal bulls as she delivered closing remarks to the First Nations delegation who met with Francis during a week-long visit to native groups from Canada last year. On Thursday, she called the Vatican statement “another step in the right direction,” but noted that there was no mention of the lifting of the cops themselves.

“I think what this does is that it really puts the responsibility on nation states like the United States to address their use of the Doctrine of Discovery,” she said in an interview from Syracuse, New York, where she is a professor of is Indigenous Law at Syracuse University College of Law. “It goes beyond the country. It has truly created generation after generation of genocidal policies aimed at indigenous peoples. And I think it’s time for these governments to take full responsibility for their actions.”

In the statement, the Vatican said: “The Catholic Church therefore rejects those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has come to be known as the legal and political ‘discovery doctrine.'”

Phil Fontaine, a former national leader of the First Nations Assembly in Canada who was also part of the First Nations delegation that met with Francis at the Vatican, said the declaration was “wonderful”, had resolved an outstanding issue and brought the Matter now raised by civil authorities to revise property laws that cite the doctrine.

“The Church has done one thing for the Holy Father as announced. Now the ball is up to the governments, the United States and Canada, but especially in the United States where the doctrine is embedded in the law,” he told The Associated Press.

The Vatican offered no evidence that the three papal bulls (Dum Diversas 1452, Romanus Pontifex 1455, and Inter Caetera 1493) themselves had been formally repealed, rescinded, or rejected, as Vatican officials have often said. But it quoted a later bull, Sublimis Deus of 1537, which affirmed that indigenous peoples should not be deprived of their liberty or property and should not be enslaved.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, the Canadian Jesuit whose office co-authored the statement, stressed that the original cops were long ago repealed and that the use of the term “doctrine” – which in this case is a legal term, not a religious one – had led to centuries of confusion about the Church’s role.

The original cops, he said, “are treated as if they were instructional, instructional, or instructional documents, and they are an ad hoc political move. And I think to solemnly reject an ad hoc political move is to create more confusion than clarity.”

He emphasized that the declaration was not just about correcting the historical record, but about “discovering, identifying, analyzing and trying to overcome what we can now only describe as the persistent effects of colonialism”.

It was significant that the rejection of the “doctrine of discovery” occurred during the pontificate of the first Latin American pope in history. Even before the trip to Canada, the Argentine Pope had apologized to the indigenous people 2015 in Bolivia for the crimes of the colonial conquest of America.

Felix Hoehn, a professor of property and administrative law at the University of Saskatchewan, said the Vatican statement had no legal significance for land claims in Canada today, but did have symbolic value.

“The most a papal rejection of doctrine (or the cops, for that matter) can do in relation to Canadian law is to pressure the Supreme Court of Canada to abandon the doctrine as part of Canadian law.” , he said.

Beyond that, however, there is hope that the declaration could show that the Catholic Church wants to be an ally of indigenous peoples as they fight for and protect their human rights and their land, said American Rev. David McCallum Jesuit, who works with indigenous peoples peoples in the Syracuse area and was consulted during the drafting of the declaration.

“So now the church must not only acknowledge the harm, but reject the whole mindset of cultural superiority, racial superiority, in a sense renounce that whole mindset and say the church wants to be forever forward and active ally in protecting the indigenous human rights along with all human rights, I think that’s a big statement,” he said.


Rob Gillies contributed to this report from Toronto.

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