Bishop denounces “doctrine of discovery” used to justify abuses against indigenous peoples, suggests that Pope Francis do the same

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(RNS) – The Catholic Bishop of Syracuse, New York, protests against the doctrine of discovery and reveals plans to ask Pope Francis to repudiate the theological teachings used for centuries to justify the subjugation of Indigenous peoples.

In an interview with Religion News Service on Wednesday, June 30, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia explained that he was exploring a possible meeting with the Holy See to discuss a series of 15th century bulls or papal decrees used by European Christians to rationalize colonize indigenous peoples and their lands.

“As these were papal bulls at the start,” Lucia said, there should be “a public acknowledgment from the Holy Father of the harm these bulls have done to the native population” as well as some sort of statement ”for repudiate “the doctrine of Discovery.

The Catholic Bishop of Syracuse protests against the doctrine of discovery and reveals plans to ask Pope Francis to repudiate the theological teachings used for centuries to justify the subjugation of indigenous peoples.

The doctrine of discovery is inspired by a series of papal documents dating back to Pope Nicholas V, of which 1452 “Dum Diversas” initiated a line of bulls used by Europeans to justify various aspects of colonization. It also found its place in future documents: Indigenous peoples were read into the “Requerimiento” by the Spanish conquistadors, who proclaimed their land to belong to Spain and demanded that they respect the authority of the monarchy and the pope.

Specifically, according to activists and academics, the bubbles have allowed Europeans to insist that Christian leaders can, among other things, seize lands and possessions from non-Christians.

“This particular doctrine has been used to justify both political and personal violence against indigenous nations, indigenous peoples and their culture – their religious and territorial identities,” Lucia said.

The doctrine even manifested itself in 2005 in the Supreme Court decision Sherrill v. Oneida, in which the judges said the redemption of traditional tribal lands does not “unilaterally revive the old (tribal) sovereignty” over it.

Lucia said he was introduced to the story – which has garnered increased attention in recent years following the efforts of indigenous activists – shortly after being elevated to the rank of Bishop of Syracuse in June 2019. It is while Reverend David McCallum, a Jesuit priest who worked in the area at the time, suggested that Lucia meet with leaders of the neighboring Onondaga nation on the matter. McCallum also suggested a visit to the Vatican.

“This particular doctrine has been used to justify both political and personal violence against Indigenous nations, Indigenous peoples and their culture – their religious and territorial identities. ”

“I’ve tried to bring attention to this question of how the church, if it is serious about seeking restorative justice, can’t just apologize,” said McCallum, who is now executive director of Discerning. Leadership Program in Rome. . “You have to take this historical context into account. “

Their plans were blocked by the pandemic, but Lucia again encountered the Discovery Doctrine problem in mid-June during a planning meeting to establish a heritage park in Syracuse to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus whose the withdrawal was planned.

Lucia said he took those experiences with him later in the day, as he virtually met his colleagues at the spring meeting of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference. When clergymen began discussing a new statement regarding Alaskan Native and Native American ministry, Lucia staged what he called an “intervention”: he asked about residential schools. for Native Children and the Doctrine of Discovery.

“I brought it up because I didn’t want it to be missed in production when creating this (statement),” he said. “They were talking about residential schools – of course we’re very much aware of that right now. But the doctrine of discovery has everything to do with even what happened in residential schools.

“The doctrine of discovery has everything to do with even what happened in residential schools.

The legacy of residential schools – many of which were run by churches – has made headlines in recent weeks following the discovery of hundreds of anonymous graves in three former schools in Canada.

The revelations prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ask Pope Francis for a personal apology – on Canadian soil – for the role of the church and prompted the US Home Office to launch an investigation into schools similar formerly established in the United States. 139 residential schools in Canada were run by the Catholic Church, according to a report by that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.

An indigenous delegation from Canada is now due to meet with Pope Francis in December “to foster meaningful encounters of dialogue and healing.”

The USCCB, for its part, issued a statement saying the leaders were monitoring the investigation “closely” and vowed to “seek ways to help.”

McCallum explained that, technically, the various papal bulls that make up the doctrine of discovery were largely nullified or overturned by the Catholic Church centuries ago. But he said that fact adds little to the “enormity of trauma and generational impact” the teachings have had on Indigenous peoples.

“When the church said today, ‘Well, these papal bulls has been legally repealed. They have been officially canceled, “that cannot cancel the impact created by these bulls,” he said. “The legitimacy he gave Western monarchs to use coercive military power and, in effect, to remove indigenous peoples from the land in order to take it.”

Asked about the reaction of her fellow bishops to her questions during the USCCB meeting, Lucia replied: “I had no reaction.

Indigenous activists have also struggled to gather responses from the Catholic hierarchy regarding the doctrine of discovery. Lucia’s proposed Vatican meeting on the subject wouldn’t even be the first: Steven Newcomb, the Shawnee / Lenape co-founder of the Indigenous Law Institute, was part of a delegation that traveled to Rome in 2016 to make the doctrine of Discovery known to the Vatican. There, Newcomb and a list of indigenous representatives called a two-hour meeting on the subject with Silvano Maria Tomasi, an archbishop since elevated to the rank of cardinal who was a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (since renamed the Dicastery for promoting human integrity Development).

Indigenous activists have struggled to gather responses from the Catholic hierarchy regarding the doctrine of discovery.

Newcomb also briefly met Pope Francis and presented him with a copy of his book, “Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery”.

But Newcomb told RNS that these efforts had not resulted in a large-scale rebuke or acknowledgment of responsibility from Catholic leaders, saying: “There have been answers, but the answers have been for the better. most dodges. … They don’t take responsibility for anything.

Therefore, he celebrated an apparent change on the subject within the Catholic hierarchy.

“Any effort on the part of Bishop Lucia of Syracuse to resolve this problem of domination that has been unleashed by the Vatican for many, many years… I welcome it,” he said. “I think it’s great.”

Other religious groups have already rebuked the doctrine of discovery, including several major Protestant Christian denominations. The United Methodist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, The United Church of Christ, Fellowship of Christ, The Presbyterian Church (USA), The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and a number of meetings of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) all passed resolutions condemning the teachings. They were joined last week by the Evangelical Alliance Church, which passed a similar resolution on Friday.

Additionally, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization representing a range of Catholic nuns in the United States, also called on the Pope to repeal the Doctrine of Discovery in 2014.

Lucia stopped condemning the Catholic missionaries who operated during the peak of the Doctrine of Discovery, saying, “I believe the missionaries wanted to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people.

Lucia stopped condemning the Catholic missionaries who operated during the peak of the Doctrine of Discovery, saying, “I believe the missionaries wanted to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people.

Newcomb, however, argued that “the mission of the mission system was domination.”

It remains to be seen when Lucia approaches the Vatican, as well as how she reacts. It is also unclear what reconciliation with indigenous communities would look like, although many advocates argue that declarations are not enough.

“A simple apology is not enough,” Newcomb said. “It takes a real calculation. “

Either way, Lucia insisted, the issue deserves more attention from the Catholic Church. To make his point clear, he linked the doctrine of discovery to a topic that has attracted much more attention: a USCCB communion document involving “Eucharistic coherence,” which is widely considered to be part of it. of a heated debate on the advisability of refusing communion to the president. Joe Biden and other Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion.

“I think sometimes there are things that we keep putting on the back burner,” Lucia said. “(But) when people seek Eucharistic consistency in living the gospel, that is one way of responding – that we do not turn our backs on problematic times in the church. But from there, we seek reconciliation, we seek redress. Even as a Church, we are called to conversion. I think this could be one of those moments of conversion.

Claire Giangrave contributed to this report from Rome. Emily McFarlan Miller contributed from Chicago.

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