In a joint note from the departments of Culture and Integral Human Development, the condemnation of the documents from the time of the colonial conquest. During Pope Francis’ trip to Canada, the indigenous people recalled that they had been used to justify the dispossession of their lands. “That the rights of indigenous peoples be protected and that their development be facilitated while respecting their identity, language and culture.”
Vatican City () – The “doctrine of discovery” is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. So says a joint official note from the departments of Culture and Education and Integral Human Development published today by the Vatican. The text, which responds to a request from the natives during Francis’s apostolic trip to Canada, openly condemns the use of some papal bulls in colonial times to dispossess the indigenous population of their lands. But it also became an occasion for the Catholic Church to renew its request for forgiveness for the “terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples”, and above all to recall that the implementation of the principles contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples is a challenge more current than ever.
“Throughout history – the text recalls – the Popes have condemned acts of violence, oppression, social injustice and slavery, including those committed against indigenous peoples. There were numerous examples of bishops, priests, men and women religious and lay faithful who gave their lives in defense of the dignity of those peoples”. But there were also many Christians who “committed perverse acts against indigenous peoples for which recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions.”
The document recalls that thanks to the help of the indigenous populations “the Church became more aware of their suffering, past and present, due to the expropriation of their lands, which they consider a sacred gift from God and their ancestors, and that of the forced assimilation, promoted by the government authorities of the time, which tended to eliminate their indigenous cultures”. And it was precisely in this context that he felt the importance of addressing the issue of the “doctrine of discovery”, which beginning in the 16th century and later in an even more pronounced way in 19th century jurisprudence granted colonists the “right” to annul, by purchase or conquest, the title of ownership of the lands by the indigenous peoples.
“Some scholars -explains the note- have argued that the basis of the aforementioned ‘doctrine’ is found in various papal documents, such as the bulls various dum (1452), Romanus Pontifex (1455) and Inter Caetera (1493). Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and related to political issues, were never considered expressions of the Catholic faith. At the same time, the Church recognizes that these papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples. The Church is also aware that the content of these documents was manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples, which were sometimes carried out without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”
“It is fair to recognize these errors -he comments-, to recognize the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain that the indigenous peoples experienced, and to ask for forgiveness. Therefore, the Catholic Church repudiates those concepts that do not recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has come to be known legally and politically as the ‘doctrine of discovery’.”
But more than about the past, the question today must be read in light of the challenges of today’s world. For this reason, the note concludes by recalling that “the solidarity of the Church with indigenous peoples gave rise to the firm support of the Holy See for the principles contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The implementation of these principles would improve living conditions and help protect the rights of indigenous peoples, in addition to facilitating their development while respecting their identity, language and culture”.