Talk to us

CathNews, the most frequently visited Catholic website in Australia, is your daily news service featuring Catholics and Catholicism from home and around the world, Mass on Demand and on line, prayer, meditation, reflections, opinion, and reviews. And, what's more - it's free!

Pope Francis receives a delegation of Canada’s indigenous peoples at the Vatican last year (Vatican Media)

The Vatican yesterday formally repudiated the “doctrine of discovery”, officially declaring that a historic policy used to justify colonial exploitation is “not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church”. Source: NCR Online.

The rejection of the concept, which describes 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 recognise 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 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 yesterday that the Doctrine of Discovery is an invention or creation of the United States Supreme Court in the 19th century”.

An 1823 US Supreme Court decision, which has been cited as recently as 2005, pointed to the 15th-century papal bulls, arguing that the “principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands”. 

Cardinal Czerny, however, said the new Vatican statement makes clear that the principle is not a Catholic doctrine and that the 15th-century papal bulls were no longer official Catholic teaching.  


Vatican formally repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ used to justify colonization (NCR Online)


Responding to Indigenous, Vatican disavows ‘doctrine of discovery’ (OSV News)

Vatican repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ used to justify colonialism after demands from Indigenous peoples (ABC News)