Doctrine of Discovery Catholic church Vatican colonization

Vatican repudiates Doctrine of Discovery, as requested by Indigenous Canadians

The 15th century papal documents were used around the world for centuries to justify colonization and slavery, as well as the Canadian Indian Act and residential school system.

The Vatican has released a statement today repudiating the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery,” papal documents from the 15th century that were used for centuries by various countries to justify colonization and annexation of Indigenous Peoples, and even genocide and slavery.

In a CBC News interview this morning, Canadian cardinal Michael Czerny, who was involved with the release of the statement in Vatican City today, said that this is the closest the Catholic Church has come to apologizing for the institutional role of the Church for atrocities such as the residential school system for Indigenous children in Canada.

“We call upon all religious denominations and faith groups who have not already done so to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”

—Call to Action #49 from the Truth and Reconciliation report

During the Pope’s visit to Canada last July, Indigenous leaders and activists requested both a formal apology for the Church’s role in the residential school system, and for the Doctrine of Discovery to be officially rescinded. The latter did not happen at the time, and the apology delivered by Pope Francis on Canadian soil was of a more personal nature, with wording that did not take responsibility on behalf of the Church.

Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, welcomed the news and commended the work of activists who’ve been addressing this matter for decades. In a CBC interview, he also noted that the AFN in his region has asked that the government of Canada to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery within its federal law, C-15, and “experienced resistance” to that request. Picard wondered whether the federal government would change its tone now.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops commented on the news this morning, explaining that “the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church and that the papal documents under scrutiny have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith.” The statement also acknowledged that the contents of the documents “did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and right of Indigenous Peoples; that they were manipulated by competing colonial powers and that Indigenous Peoples suffered the terrible effects of assimilation policies of colonizing nations.”

Vatican repudiates Doctrine of Discovery, as requested by Indigenous Canadians

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