(FILE PHOTO) Indigeous people listen to Pope Francis celebrating mass at the National Shrine of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupre, Canada (FILE PHOTO) Indigeous people listen to Pope Francis celebrating mass at the National Shrine of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupre, Canada   (2022 Getty Images)

US and Canadian Bishops welcome Vatican Statement on Doctrine of Discovery

Bishops' Conferences from Canada and the United States issue statements supporting the Holy See in its recent Document repudiating the "Doctrine of Discovery".

By Francesca Merlo

With regards to the recently published Statement by the Holy See on the 'Doctrine of Discovery, both the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have issued separate statements, expressing support for the Holy See in its repudiation of the Doctrine. 

Canadian Bishops

In its statement, issued on 30 March, the CCCB expresses gratitude towards the Holy See for issuing the Declaration, which they note also includes "the question of certain papal bulls of the 15th century which, according to some scholars, served as the basis for the aforementioned ‘doctrine’."

In this regard, the Canadian Bishops state that "contrary to this claim, numerous and repeated statements by the Church and the Popes through the centuries have upheld the rights and freedoms of Indigenous Peoples", quoting the 1327 Bull Sublimis Deus as an example. 

"Indeed", reiterated the Bishops, "Popes in recent times have also sought forgiveness on numerous occasions for evil acts committed against Indigenous Peoples by Christians" and in having heard a strong desire from Indigenous Peoples for the Church to address the Doctrine of Discovery, today’s Declaration from the Holy See further repudiates any concepts that fail to recognize the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples".

US Bishops

On behalf of the USCCB, a statement published on 30 March, is signed by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and secretary of the USCCB in response to the Statement issued by the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development regarding the Doctrine of Discovery. 

Archbishop Coakley writes that this joint statement represents yet another step in expressing concern and pastoral solicitude for Indigenous peoples "who have experienced tremendous suffering because of the legacy of a colonizing mentality". He notes that in the centuries that followed the papal bulls at issue, "many popes boldly proclaimed the God-given rights owed to all peoples", but said that "we must also confront those moments when individual Christians lacked such boldness or clarity".

In this regard, the US Bishops continue, "we too express deep sorrow and regret" and say they will continue to support policies that protect the poor and vulnerable, and that will offer relief to Indigenous families who are struggling. 

Finally, the US Bishops note that, as the Joint Statement indicates, "the centuries of history at issue are complex and the term 'doctrine of discovery' has taken on various legal and political interpretations that merit further historical study and understanding". 

Upcoming symposium

Both the USCCB and the CCCB end their statements by announcing that they are exploring ways in which to support an academic symposium, along with the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, with Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars to further deepen historical understanding about the ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’

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30 March 2023, 12:30