ST-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRÉ, Quebec (AP) — Pope Francis celebrated Mass Thursday at Canada’s national shrine and came face to face with a longstanding demand from indigenous peoples: formally rescind papal decrees that they support the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” that legitimized the taking of native lands and resources during the colonial era.
Just before Mass began, two indigenous women unfurled a banner on the altar of the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré that read “Rescind the Doctrine” in bright red and black letters. The protesters were escorted away and the mass passed without incident, although the women later removed the banner from the basilica and placed it on the railing.
The brief protest underscored one of the persistent problems facing the Holy See after Francisco’s historic apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in Canada’s notorious residential schools, where generations of indigenous peoples were forcibly separated from their families and cultures to assimilate them into Canadian Christian society. Francis has spent the week in Canada seeking to atone for the trauma and suffering of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples.
Beyond the apology, indigenous peoples have called on Francis to formally rescind the 15th-century papal decrees, or bulls, that provided European kingdoms with the religious backing to expand their territories for the spread of Christianity. Those decrees have been seen as the basis for the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept coined in an 1823 US Supreme Court decision that has been understood to mean that ownership and sovereignty over land passed to Europeans. because they “discovered” it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the need for the Holy See to “address the Doctrine of Discovery” as well as other issues, including the return of indigenous artifacts in the Vatican Museumsin his private conversations with Francis on Wednesday, Trudeau’s office said.
Various Christian denominations in recent years have formally repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. The umbrella organization of women’s Catholic religious orders, the Women Religious Leadership Conference, formally asked Francis to do so in 2014, saying he should repudiate “the period of Christian history that used religion to justify political and personal violence against indigenous nations and peoples”. .” and their cultural, religious and territorial identities”.
Murray Sinclair, chairman of Canada’s First Nations Truth and Reconciliation Commission, cited the doctrine in a statement this week welcoming Francis’ apology but asking him to take responsibility for the church’s full role in the crisis. Canadian residential school system.
“Prompted by the Doctrine of Discovery and other church beliefs and doctrines, Catholic leaders not only enabled, but further fueled, the government of Canada in its work to commit cultural genocide of indigenous peoples,” he said. Sinclair.
Church officials have insisted those papal decrees have long since been rescinded or replaced by ones that fully recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to live on their lands, saying the original bulls have no legal or moral relevance in the present. During the trip, Francisco repeatedly reaffirmed those rights and rejected the assimilation policies that promoted the residential school system.
But both the Vatican and the Canadian trip organizers have confirmed that a new statement is in the works to address demands for an ongoing formal repudiation, though it is not expected to be released during Francis’ visit.
“The Vatican has made it clear that papal bulls associated with the Doctrine of Discovery have no legal or moral authority in the Church,” Neil MacCarthy, in charge of communications for the papal visit, told The Associated Press in an email. “However, we understand the desire to name these texts, acknowledge their impact, and relinquish the concepts associated with them.”
Asked about Thursday’s protest, MacCarthy said: “We recognize that there are very passionate feelings about a number of issues, including the Doctrine of Discovery. The brief peaceful protest did not disrupt service and the group had an opportunity to voice their concerns.”
The service itself incorporated many indigenous elements and peoples, including an emotional moment when a woman dressed as a native wept in front of Francis as he brought her offertory gifts. Francis did not mention the doctrinal issue in his homily, as he spoke in general terms about reconciliation and the need for hope.
The Vatican clearly anticipated that the issue would come up during the trip. In an essay in the current edition of the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, the Rev. Federico Lombardi acknowledged that the issue remains important to indigenous peoples, but emphasized that the Holy See’s position of repudiating the doctrine of the discovery is clear.
Lombardi, the retired Vatican spokesman, cited the subsequent 1538 bull “Sublimis Deus” which stated that indigenous peoples “must in no way be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even if they are outside the faith of Jesus Christ.” ; and that they can and must freely and legitimately enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be enslaved in any way.”
Felix Hoehn, a professor of property and administrative law at the University of Saskatchewan, said any repudiation of papal bulls or 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 like that, but it would be symbolic,” Hoehn said. “It would add moral pressure.”
Philip Arnold, chairman of the religion department at Syracuse University in New York, which is on the territory of the Onondaga Nation, said the topic of the doctrine is neither new nor “less aggressively invasive today.”
“The role of the Vatican in justifying the Doctrine of Christian Discovery in the 15th century is the origin story of the transatlantic slave trade, land theft, and extractive colonial settler economies in Africa and the Americas,” he said in a statement. email.
For its part, the Canadian bishops’ conference in 2016 published a statement firmly repudiating the doctrine, as well as the related concept of “terra nullius”. That 19th-century term is also understood as legitimizing the taking of indigenous land, in the sense that European settlers considered the land to be “unused” if it showed no signs of European agricultural practices.
Winfield reported from Quebec City.
Associated Press religious coverage is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
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