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Bishops, Vatican working on clarifying 15th-century Church documents on colonies


Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP

I.Media - published on 07/28/22

Some Canadian Indigenous say more than an apology is needed, in reference to 15th-century papal documents.

Organizers of the pope’s visit to Canada say they are working “with the Vatican and those who have studied this issue, with the goal of issuing a new Church statement” on the “doctrine of discovery.”

The announcement on July 28, 2022, follows a silent protest by a group that unfurled a banner at the beginning of a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupré.

The silent protest – which did not disrupt the Mass – referred to the “doctrine of discovery,” established by the bull Romanus Pontifex of Pope Nicholas V in 1455. Many indigenous people are asking the pope to formally revoke this document, which spoke to Christian monarchs taking possession of non-Christian lands.

The organizers’ statement said, “We understand the desire to name these texts, to recognize their impact and to renounce the concepts associated with them” expressed by the Indigenous Peoples.

Another document in question is Inter Caetera, which in 1493 established a division of the world between the Spanish and Portuguese, under the arbitration of Pope Alexander VI.

The organizers point out that in his speeches since arriving in the country on July 24, the head of the Catholic Church has “directly condemned many of the policies and principles that are commonly associated with the doctrine of discovery.”

Pope speaks for the Catholic Church

In the note, the Bishops of Canada also express their gratitude to the pope for “the sincere and solemn apology he has offered to Indigenous Peoples in the name of the Catholic Church.”

The statement responds to criticism from some organizations that Pope Francis did not blame the institution of the Church, but only individuals who ran the schools, “seeming to restrict responsibility for these acts to individuals and not to a system.”

“When Pope Francis speaks, he speaks in the name of the Catholic Church, and we heard him offer a sincere apology, from the heart,” Erika Jacinto, spokesperson for the visit team, tells I.MEDIA.

The pontiff, she adds, “took direct responsibility as head of the Catholic Church, saying ‘I am grieved,’ ‘I ask for forgiveness,’ and ‘in the face of this evil that outrages, the Church kneels before God and implores forgiveness for the sins of her children.'”

“His decision to apologize on Canadian soil, while facing significant health problems and having to cancel other international trips, demonstrates his understanding of the role of the Catholic Church in the history of Canada’s residential schools,” the Montreal diocese’s communications director said.

However, there is still “much work to be done on the long road to healing, justice and reconciliation,” organizers say.

Pope Francis
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