Standort: / Meldung: "The Doctrine of Christian Discovery"

Steve Crilley

God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

19. 3. 2016 - 09:00

The Doctrine of Christian Discovery

Why the Vatican has not annulled the law that still brings continued pain to indigenous peoples across the globe.

FM4 Reality Check

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Pope Francis: Work Done & Work Still To Do

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In this programme, we also spoke about The Doctrine of Christian Discovery, an unusual Vatican law that has yet to be annulled. It still brings a lot of pain and problems to indiginous peoples across the globe. If it is so problematic, what is it all about and why doesn't the pope, who has made the fight for social justice a central tenant of his papacy, simply rescind this law?

Let's wind back the clock to July of last year. Pope Francis stood before a crowd of indigenous peoples in Bolivia & asked for "forgiveness for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America".

No-one could deny his sincerity or his deep shame as he looked at the crowds of people before him and considered the probable trauma their ancestors had experienced in the name of Christian conquerors at the behest of successive popes.

Then a few weeks after his Bolivia encounter, he moved on to the United States. And in Washington DC he canonized Junipero Serra. Serra was a Spanish monk who lived at the end of the 18th Century and is sometimes called California’s founding father. As well as now being St Junipero, he is a hugely controversial figure for unleashing huge forces of change upon indigenous peoples of the western regions of northern America, in particular against the Ohlone people. In his book on the subject, Professor Steven W. Hackel at the University of California called Serra, "a man for all seasons: a saint as well as an ogre, a ‘founding father,’ an agricultural visionary, and a merciless imperialist ― in short, a figure whose legacy is nothing if not polarizing"

So, an apology to the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, followed swiftly by a lack of contrition to first nation peoples of California? In fact, it goes much deeper than this. Francis has yet to come anywhere close to overturning the church's colonial legacy. There is still The Doctrine of Christian Discovery, which called (and strangely enough still calls) on Christians to "invade, capture and subdue all Saracens and pagans, the kingdoms and possessions".

Ahead of our Reality Check special this week on Pope Francis and his three years as head of the Catholic Church, I spoke with Professor Alison Watson at the University of St Andrews in Scotland to tell us more about this doctrine (which still exists today).

Alison Watson: It’s a series of decrees that were issued by the Vatican in the 15th Century and effectively allowed Christian explorers to claim ownership over those who were living in so-called non-Christian lands.

Steve Crilley: Give us an example of how it affected communities.

Alison Watson: Actually it is still affecting communities because the doctrine remains the law in various ways in societies round the world today. So, for many indigenous leaders, the doctrine continues a fundamental impediment to realising indigenous’ rights, to land, to sovereignty. The wording of it was really a legal and moral justification for taking things, land and the lives of indigenous peoples as well.

There have been recent apologies to indigenous peoples. That could be quite ironic since the doctrine hasn’t been rescinded?

Alison Watson: It’s interesting because Pope Francis has made a number of attempts during his papacy to atone for the wrongs committed against indigenous peoples. He’s talked about the grave sins that were committed, he’s also voiced support for indigenous rights during a speech to the US Congress. But still the doctrine hasn’t been rescinded.

Why do you think it hasn’t been quashed to date?

Alison Watson: The Vatican is yet to publically address the doctrine. I don’t know if Francis will do so. Indigenous leaders are always pushing for the doctrine to be rescinded. It’s not to say that nothing has been done. For example, the episcopal churches have condemned the doctrine, so has the Society of Friends. And the World Council of Churches has issued a statement denouncing The Doctrine of Christian Discovery but (there’s been) nothing as yet from the Catholic Church.

Does this really matter in 2016 or is it just one of those strange quirks that sits on the law books that no-one enacts now?

Alison Watson: The doctrine is a crime against humanity and contemporary legal frameworks are built upon it. So rescinding the doctrine would start a conversation about also rescinding those legal frameworks. And also start a larger conversation about what justice means for indigenous peoples across the globe.