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.'"
The declaration acknowledges that some scholars believe the basis of the doctrine is rooted in papal documents, but states that the bulls were "written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, [and] have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith."
At the same time, it states that the papal bulls "did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples" and that the they were "manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities."
Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, who heads the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told reporters on March. 30 that "the 'Doctrine of Discovery' is an invention or creation of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th century" and that it was "unfortunate" that "a very strongly church related word is used by the U.S. Supreme Court to name an idea or a historical process."