Vatican repudiates ‘doctrine of discovery’
March 30, 2023
The Vatican has formally repudiated the “doctrine of discovery,” which was used by colonial powers starting in the 15th century to justify the seizure of native lands in the New World.
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In a joint statement issued on March 30 by the Dicastery for Culture and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the Vatican rejected “those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery.’”
The “doctrine of discovery” was supported by three papal bulls, released by Popes Nicholas V and Alexander VI between 1452 and 1493. But the March 30 statement said that these documents, “written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith.” Therefore, the statement said, the doctrine “is not a part of the teaching of the Catholic Church.”
This joint statement was a response to requests from indigenous groups in North America. During his visit to Canada last year, Pope Francis had apologized for the injustices of colonial exploitation, and promised that the Vatican would issue a more formal document reaffirming the rights ot native peoples. Phil Fontaine, a spokesman for the First Nations of Canada, said that the new Vatican document was a “wonderful” response.
In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Michael Czerny, the prefect of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, explained that the papal bulls supporting the doctrine of discovery were written by Pontiffs in their capacity as government leaders, and each should be understood as “a statement, like any head of state would emit.” He explained that in issuing these statements, the 15th-century Popes had been seeking to avoid war among the colonizing powers.
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- Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development on the “Doctrine of Discovery” (Vatican press office)
- Church defends Indigenous peoples: ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ was never Catholic (Vatican News)
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