Everyone’s talking about the Doctrine of Discovery

Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery is making headlines, especially in Canada. Numerous individuals and groups want it gone.

The Doctrine is a collection of papal teachings beginning in the 14th century.

The teachings (called papal bulls) blessed explorers’ efforts to colonise and claim the lands of any people who were not Christian.

The explorers would then place both the land and the people under the sovereignty of European Christian rulers.

Among those wanting it gone are Indigenous Canadians, Canada’s bishops and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Indigenous people in Canada have for years been calling for the Doctrine of Discovery to be rescinded.

One Indigenous group staged a protest about the Doctrine just before Pope Francis celebrated Mass last Thursday at Canada’s national shrine.

Rescind the papal decrees underpinning the Doctrine! Repudiate the theories that legitimised the colonial-era seizure of Native lands and form the basis of some property law today, they demanded.

Then two Indigenous women unfurled a banner at the altar. It read: “Rescind the Doctrine” in bright red and black letters. They took it down before Mass started.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also been looking for action on the Doctrine. In 2015, the Commission listed its repudiation as one of 94 calls to action. It’s still waiting.

Canada’s bishops are clear about their views.

“Galvanised by the calls of our indigenous partners and by the Holy Father’s remarks, we are working with the Vatican and those who have studied this issue, with the goal of issuing a new statement from the Church,” they said.

“Canada’s Bishops continue to reject and resist the ideas associated with the Doctrine of Discovery in the strongest possible way.”

Professor of theology and religious studies, Massimo Faggioli, thinks Francis is unlikely to formally rescind the doctrine, though he should address it.

Francis himself is aware of the Doctrine’s impact on indigenous Canadians.

He spent last week in Canada seeking to atone for the legacy and on Thursday added in another request for forgiveness from victims for the “evil” of clergy sexual abuse.

The doctrine led to the planned destruction of the families, languages, cultures and traditions of the Indigenous communities of Canada through the residential school system.

This was “genocide,” Francis said during his return journey to Rome. It always has been a temptation for colonisers to think they were superior to the people whose land they were colonising.

There was even “a theologian, who was a bit crazy,” who questioned whether the indigenous people of the Americas had souls,” he added.

“This is the problem of every colonialism, even today.”

He then pointed to modern forms of “ideological colonialism,” which use requests for foreign assistance to force poorer countries to adopt policies that go against the values their people hold dear.

“This doctrine of colonialism truly is evil, it’s unjust,” Francis said.


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