Pax Christi USA celebrates the news that the Vatican has finally renounced the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which was used justify colonization and, as Religion News Service reported in 2021, “allowed Europeans to insist Christian rulers can, among other things, seize the land and possessions of non-Christians.”

National Catholic Reporter writes:

The Vatican on March 30 formally repudiated the “Doctrine of Discovery,” officially declaring that an historic policy used to justify colonial exploitation is “not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

The rejection of the concept, which has been used to describe a collection of papal teachings dating back to the 15th century, comes after years of pressure from Indigenous groups and some government leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

“In no uncertain terms, the Church’s magisterium upholds the respect due to every human being,” states a two-page text released jointly by the Vatican’s Dicasteries for Culture and Education and Promoting Integral Human Development. “The Catholic Church therefore repudiates 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.’ ” …

National Catholic Reporter, March 30, 2023

Use this link to read the entire article.

Pax Christi Maine and Pax Christi South Dakota are just two of the Pax Christi groups in the United States that have worked on this issue for years, recognizing that in order to create true reconciliation with justice, we must have an honest assessment of past behavior and its contribution to structural and societal damage. We also appreciate the strong stance offered by Bishop Douglas J. Lucia of Syracuse, NY, who has been outspoken against the Doctrine.

6 thoughts on “Vatican renounces “Doctrine of Discovery”

  1. Justice comes late sometimes! But it is here to build upon for the Indigenous now. Hurray!! Fr Frank Morin

  2. A responsible professor helps students to develop critical thinking, i.e., the what, when, why, how and who/whom of a situation rather than slavishly accept what is fashionable with Groupthink. The Vatican statement on the Doctrine of Discovery is anachronistic at best and cynical at worst. It begs the ridiculous question: shall we amend our sin of discovery by leaving the Americas along with the firm intent to never discover it again? Evolution and History are vastly more complex than simplistic politically correct groupthink.
    David-Ross Gerling, PhD

    1. David, perhaps you are asking the wrong question: We are asked, certainly, to make amends for past mistakes. Obviously, leaving Abya Yala (the Americas) is not an option for most of us, nor have I heard that as a demand from many Indigenous communities asking for land back. Generally, at least in Canada, those demands centre around crown lands…..

      What we do need to do is to seek out pathways towards a genuine righting of relationships, a path towards great justice and respect for Indigenous Peoples and respect for the original intent of the (often oral) treaties which centred on sharing (not ceding) the land.

      The renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery by the Catholic Church is one small step in the right direction. Governments, too, must take similar steps. We may not yet see the final destination on the pathway towards greater justice, but we need to walk the walk with humility.

  3. Mark, much appreciate your perspective which admittedly has more nuance than mine. My thesis was that the Vatican statement of repudiation, at least academically speaking, comes across as politically expedient and devoid, precisely, of the nuances connected with an historical moment half a millennium ago. Sadly, the Vatican is the focus of a variety of painful issues and therefore fears to appear even remotely defensive. Thus no mention was made in their renunciation statement of the Spanish philosopher, Francisco de Vitoria, who expressed his repudiation of the treatment of the indigenous to both the pope (Paul III) and the Spanish Monarch and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Nor is any mention made of the Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas who advocated on behalf of the indigenous before the Spanish Crown Court and whose work “A Short Account of the Destruction of The Indies” (1542) is a legal masterpiece. Instead the Vatican relinquished to the politically correct groupthink mob who predicate all history on the present.
    ad majorem dei gloriam,

  4. There is so much that I can be proud of when one considers how the Catholic Church was a leader in promoting justice and peace. NOT SO REGARDING ITS DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY ! What a shameful dark page in our legacy. We will never be able to undo all the harm caused by this diabolic practice. This renouncement is a movement in the right direction. As a Catholic speaking for the larger institution, may I say; “forgive us for this horrible sin.”

  5. I am thrilled to see the church which used this against the indigenous people to steal their land has finally renounced this terrible practice and proclamation. I am proud of my brother Bartholomew de las casas who preached against the cruelty to the indigenous peoples in the time when these things were happening. Glory aleluya amen. Kitty Bethea op

Leave a Reply