600 years after creating the Doctrine of Discovery, the Catholic church is repudiating it. On Mar. 30, the Vatican, Roman Catholicism’s governmental body, announced it was “repudiat[ing] those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples including…the Doctrine of Discovery.”
The Doctrine of Discovery was written in 1452 C.E. as part of a series of papal decrees, known as “bulls,” permitting colonialism from European nations such as Spain and Portugal in Africa and the Americas. The doctrine permitted the violent capture of land as well as the subjugation of any non-Christian peoples. The doctrine has also been referenced in United States legal scholarship as justification for forcing Indigenous peoples from their lands.
The repudiation comes at the behest of Indigenous groups seeking acknowledgement from the Catholic church of their role in the subjugation of Indigenous peoples. The repudiation follows the Pope’s public apology for Canadian residential schools last year.
Some Indigenous organizations, such as the National Congress of American Indians, expressed hope that the repudiation will be the starting point for the Catholic church in taking accountability. Others are apprehensive that the repudiation will have any real effect and that it may just be a symbolic gesture, especially given the statement’s claim that the doctrine was “manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers.”
According to author and executive director of the Coalition to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery Sarah Augustine, the repudiation statement doesn’t go far enough.
“I think there is still a ways to go,” she told Religion News.