On Thursday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at a national shrine in Canada and witnessed direct requests from Indigenous peoples.
The indigenous people demanded to rescind the papal decree that underpins the “Doctrine of Discovery” and remove theories that legalized the colonial-period Native lands seizure and created the basis of today’s property law.
Before the Mass started, two Indigenous women opened a banner at the National Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré altar reading, “Rescind the Doctrine.”
The indigenous protesters walked away as the service continued without incident, even though the women marched the banner from the basilica and hung it on the railing.
The little protest indicated one of the problems witnessed by the Holy See after the Pope’s memorable apology for the Catholic activities in Canada’s infamous residential schools that saw some Indigenous peoples’ generations abruptly removed from their cultures and families to inculcate them into Canadian’s Christian society.
The pope spent the week in the country trying to atone for the church’s legacy. On Thursday, he made another request, seeking forgiveness from victims of clergy sexual abuse evils.
Notwithstanding the apology, the indigenous people have told the Pope to officially rescind the 15th-century papal decree that gave the Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms the religious support to grow their territories in America and Africa in the name of spreading Christianity.
According to people, the decree underpins the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept coined in the US Supreme Court decision, which backs sovereignty and ownership over land passed to Europeans because they found it.
Reacting to the doctrine, Michelle Shenandoah, a member of the Oneida Nation Wolf Clan, said, “These colonizing nation-states, in particular Canada and the United States, have utilized this doctrine as the basis for their title to land, which ultimately really means the dispossession of land of Indigenous peoples.”
In his private discussion with the Pope on Wednesday, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, expressed that the Holy See needs to “address the Doctrine of Discovery,” plus other issues like the return of Indigenous artifacts from the Vatican Museums.
In addition, many Christian denominations have repudiated the doctrine. In 2016, the Canadian bishops formally repudiated the doctrine. The umbrella organization of US female Catholic religious orders and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious have also formally spoken against the doctrine in 2014.
They spoke against “the period of Christian history that used religion to justify political and personal violence against Indigenous nations and peoples and their cultural, religious, and territorial identities.”
Vatican prepares to address demands for formal and current repudiation
In the meantime, the church officials have maintained that the papal decree has already been rescinded and superseded by ones recognizing the Indigenous peoples’ rights to live on their lands. For the church, the original bulls don’t have moral or legal bearing today.
Also, the Pope, has during the trip, reasserted those rights. He rejected the policy of assimilation, which drove the residential school program.
The Canadian trip organizers and the Vatican have confirmed that the church is preparing a new statement to address demands for formal and current repudiation, even though it may not be launched during the Pope’s visit.