ST-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRÉ, Quebec — Pope Francis celebrated Mass Thursday at Canada’s National Shrine and found himself faced with a longstanding demand from Indigenous peoples: to formally rescind the papal decrees that underpin the so -called “Doctrine of Discovery” which legitimized the seizure of indigenous lands and resources during the colonial era.
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 protest underscored one of the lingering issues facing the Holy See in the wake of Francis’ historic apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in Canada’s notorious residential schools, where generations of Indigenous people have forcibly removed from their families and cultures to assimilate them into Canadian Christian society. . Francis spent the week in Canada seeking to atone for the trauma and suffering of First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
Beyond the apologies, the indigenous people called on Francis to formally rescind 15th-century papal decrees, or bulls, that provided European kingdoms with religious support to expand their territories in an effort to spread Christianity. These executive orders were seen as supporting the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept coined in an 1823 United States Supreme Court decision that came to be understood to mean that ownership and sovereignty over the land passed to the Europeans because they “discovered” it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised 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 Museums, during his private talks with Francis Wednesday, Trudeau’s office said.
Several Christian denominations in recent years have formally repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. 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 political 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 Church beliefs and doctrines, 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 statement is in the works to meet current formal repudiation demands, although it is not expected to be released during Francis’ visit.
“The Vatican has clarified that papal bulls associated with the Doctrine of Discovery have no legal or moral authority in the Church,” Neil MacCarthy, communications manager for the papal visit, told The Associated Press in a statement. E-mail. “However, we understand the drive to name these texts, acknowledge their impact, and relinquish the concepts associated with them.”
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 service itself incorporated many Indigenous elements and people, including a moving moment when a woman in Indigenous dress wept in front of Francis as she brought him the offering gifts. Francis did not mention the question of doctrine in his homily, which spoke in general terms of reconciliation and the need for hope.
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 1538 Bull “Sublimis Deus” which stated that indigenous peoples “shall not 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 should freely and legitimately enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; in no case should they be reduced to slavery.
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.”
Philip Arnold, chair of the religion department at Syracuse University in New York, which sits in Onondaga Nation territory, said the issue of doctrine is not new or “less aggressively intrusive today.” .
“The role of the Vatican in vindicating the doctrine of Christian discovery in the 15th century is at the root of the transatlantic slave trade, land theft and colonial extractive economies across Africa and the Americas,” said he said in an email.
For its part, the Canadian Bishops’ Conference issued a statement in 2016 strongly repudiating the doctrine as well as the related concept of “terra nullius”. This 19th-century term is also understood to legitimize the seizure of Indigenous lands, as European settlers considered land to be “unused” if it showed no signs of European agricultural practices.
Winfield reported from Quebec.
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