ST-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRÉ, Quebec (AP) — Pope Francis celebrated Mass Thursday at Canada’s National Shrine and found himself faced with a longstanding demand from Indigenous peoples: to rescind the papal decrees that underpin the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and repudiate the theories that legitimized the seizure of Indigenous lands in colonial times and which today form the basis of some property laws.
Just before the start of the mass, two aboriginal women unfurled a banner at the altar of the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré which read: “Repeal the doctrine” in bright red and black letters. The demonstrators were escorted out and the mass passed without incident, although the women then carried the banner out of the basilica and draped it over the balustrade.
The brief demonstration highlighted one of the problems facing the Holy See after Francis’ historic apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in Canada’s infamous residential schools, where generations of Indigenous people were forcibly removed from their families and cultures to assimilate them into Canadian Christian society. Francis has spent the week in Canada seeking to atone for the legacy and on Thursday added another plea for forgiveness to victims for the “evil” of clergy sex abuse.
Beyond the apologies, the indigenous people called on Francis to officially rescind the 15th century papal bulls or decrees, which provided the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms with religious support to expand their territories in Africa and the Americas in a bid to spread the Christianity. These decrees underlie the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept coined in an 1823 United States Supreme Court decision that has come to be understood to mean that ownership and sovereignty over the land passed to Europeans because that they “discovered” it. It was cited as recently as a 2005 Supreme Court decision involving the Oneida Indian Nation.
“These colonizing nation states, especially Canada and the United States, used this doctrine as the basis of their land title, which ultimately means the dispossession of the lands of Indigenous peoples,” said Michelle Schenandoah, member of the Oneida Nation. Clan of the Wolf. She was in Quebec with a delegation from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy to raise the issue with Church leaders.
“It was a long genocide of more than 500 years, and it is still valid law to this day,” she said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the need for the Holy See to “deal with the Doctrine of Discovery,” as well as other issues, including the return of indigenous artifacts to the Vatican Museumsduring his private talks with Francis on Wednesday, Trudeau’s office said.
Several Christian denominations in recent years have formally repudiated the doctrine. The Canadian bishops did so in 2016 and the umbrella organization for American Catholic women’s religious orders, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, formally asked Francis to do so in 2014 saying he should repudiate “the period of Christian history that has used religion to justify policies and personal violence against Indigenous nations and peoples and their cultural, religious and territorial identities.
Murray Sinclair, the First Nations chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, cited the doctrine in a statement this week, welcoming Francis’ apology but calling on him to fully embrace the church’s role in the system of Canadian boarding schools.
“Driven by the Doctrine of Discovery and other beliefs and doctrines of the Church, Catholic leaders not only enabled the Government of Canada, but pushed it even further in its work to commit cultural genocide of the peoples natives,” Sinclair said.
Church officials have insisted that these papal decrees have long since been rescinded or replaced with others that fully recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to live on their lands, and say the original bulls are meaningless. legal or moral today. During the trip, Francis repeatedly reaffirmed these rights and rejected the assimilation policies that drove the residential school system.
But trip organizers from the Vatican and Canada have confirmed that a new church statement is in the works to address current formal repudiation demands, although it is not expected to be released during Francis’ visit.
“We understand the desire to name these texts, acknowledge their impact, and relinquish the concepts associated with them,” Neil MacCarthy, communications manager for the papal visit, told The Associated Press in an email.
Asked about the protest on Thursday, MacCarthy said: ‘We recognize that there are very passionate feelings on a number of issues, including the Doctrine of Discovery. The brief peaceful protest did not disrupt the service and the group had the opportunity to voice their concerns.
The Vatican clearly anticipated that the problem would arise during the trip. In an essay in the current issue of the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, Reverend Federico Lombardi acknowledged that the issue remains important for indigenous peoples, but stressed that the Holy See’s position in repudiating the doctrine of discovery is clear.
Lombardi, the retired Vatican spokesman, cited the subsequent bull of 1538 “Sublimis Deus” which asserted that indigenous peoples could not be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property “and should in no case be reduced to slavery”.
But Philip Arnold, chair of the department of religion at Syracuse University in New York, which sits in the territory of the Onondaga Nation, said the 1538 bull was actually “a ruse” because it did not call the European colonial powers to return the land they had already claimed, but rather crafted the “freedom that comes with submission to the Catholic Church and this sponsoring monarch”.
“The role of the Vatican in substantiating the doctrine of Christian discovery in the 15th century is the origin story of the transatlantic slave trade, land theft, and colonial extractive economies across Africa and the Americas” , did he declare.
Felix Hoehn, a professor of real estate and administrative law at the University of Saskatchewan, said any repudiation of bulls or papal doctrines would have no legal bearing on land claims today, but would have symbolic value.
“The Vatican does not make Canadian law. The courts are not bound by papal bulls or anything of that notion, but it would be symbolic,” Hoehn said. “It would add moral suasion.”
Winfield reported from Quebec.
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