- BBC News World
The Vatican on Thursday formally rejected the colonial-era “discovery doctrine,” which was used to justify European conquests of Africa and the Americas under the guise of the expansion of Christianity.
This doctrine, backed by papal bulls (decree) of the fifteenth century, legitimized the appropriation of indigenous lands and was the basis of some current property laws.
In a “joint statement” by the Offices for Development and Education, the Vatican said the doctrine “is not part of the teachings of the Catholic Church,” and that the ordinances in question were “never considered expressions of the Catholic faith.”
He acknowledges that such papal decrees were used by the colonial powers to legalize their actions, including slavery.
“The content of these documents was manipulated for political purposes by rival colonial powers to justify immoral actions against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without the opposition of the ecclesiastical authorities,” the text says.
The announcement comes after decades of indigenous peoples’ demands to the Vatican to formally abolish the papacy that provided European kingdoms with the support of the Catholic Church to expand their lands and eradicate indigenous cultures.
The origins of the “discovery doctrine”
The roots of the doctrine of discovery go back to the beginnings of the Age of Discovery, which began in the early 15th century.
Supported by a series of papal decrees, the doctrine Laying the legal foundations for the conquest of the New World by the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, which later supported other European monarchies.
The decrees established a religious, political, and legal justification for the colonization and appropriation of lands uninhabited by Christians.
In addition to legalizing land grabs, the ordinances also opened the door The eradication of many indigenous cultures in the name of Christianity.
In decrees, known as papal bulls, the popes granted European crowns the right to rule the land, subjugate the peoples already living there, and convert them to Christianity.
Bulls included punishments, executions, licenses, expulsions, reprimands, excommunications, denunciations, and expressions of the territorial supremacy of Christian kings backed by the Catholic Church.
particularly, Two papal bulls stand out.
One is Romanus Pontifex”Issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1455, which granted the Portuguese a monopoly on trade with Africa and authorized the enslavement of the local population.
The second is bull Enter Caetera Issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 to justify the claims of Christian European explorers to have “discovered” lands and waterways in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and to promote Christian domination and supremacy.
The ordinances not only gave carte blanche to claim land in the New World, but also tied Exploration and Colonialism with Christianity and Conversion.
As Pope Alexander VI instructed in his book, the priority was to ensure “that in our time, especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion are exalted and spread everywhere, that care is taken for the health of souls and that barbarians are overthrown and nations brought to faith itself.”
The popes’ thinking was based on the new concept of The common ground (Empty land in Latin).
This meant that any place not occupied by Christians was considered free for Christian Europeans to take up, regardless of the number of people already living there or the progress of their civilizations.
As explorers penetrated deeper into the New World, the Papal revolutionaries coalesced into the legal concept that would become known as the “Discovery Doctrine,” because it interpreted land ownership and sovereignty as a transfer to Europeans. Because they “discovered” it.
This concept spread from the 15th to the 19th century, and the practices of the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors were replicated by other nations such as France, England, and the Netherlands.
With the passage of time, the doctrine became applied all over the world.
In 1823 it was incorporated into United States law when the doctrine was used in a Supreme Court case to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land.
Rejection, not annulment
Although Thursday’s Vatican statement reaffirms the Church’s “rejection of the colonial mentality,” it does not speak of nullifying the bulls nor does it acknowledge their responsibility for abuses committed during the colonial era.
Arnold, professor of religious studies at Syracuse University in the United States, told the newspaper The New York Times That the Vatican’s statement is “a good first step,” but it does not speak of its “responsibility.” In the worldview ‘that underpins the creed: the supremacy of Christianity.
“It’s not just legal formulation we’re trying to articulate, it’s a worldview that set in motion during the Age of Discovery that we still have to confront in these urgent times,” he said.
He added that while the Vatican’s statement was “encouraging,” it did not reflect this worldview She is still active in the church.
Indigenous calls for the Vatican to reject the Doctrine of Discovery increased last year when Pope Francis visited Canada to apologize to indigenous communities for the Church’s role there.
In particular, the Church’s role in the notorious residential school system where thousands of Aboriginal children were physically and sexually abused, and in some cases killed.
This was not the first time the pope had apologized. In 2015 during a trip to Bolivia, the Pope spoke about the “crimes” committed by the Church in America.
I tell you with regret: Many grave sins have been committed Against the indigenous peoples of America in the name of God.”
He added, “I humbly cry out, not only for the insults of the Church itself, but for the crimes against the indigenous peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
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