Catholic Bishop of Syracuse denounces doctrine of discovery and suggests Pope to do likewise



(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 Information service on religion On Wednesday, June 30, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia explained that he was considering a possible meeting with the Holy See to discuss a series of 15th century bulls or papal decrees, used by European Christians to rationalize the colonization of peoples indigenous peoples and their lands.

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia of Syracuse. (Screenshot from Religious News Service)

“Since these were papal bulls at the start,” said Lucia, there should be “a public recognition 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 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 the lands and possessions of non-Christians.

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

The doctrine itself introduced himself in 2005 in the Supreme Court ruling Sherrill vs. Oneida, in which the judges said that the redemption of traditional tribal lands does not “unilaterally revive the old (tribal) sovereignty” over them.

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.

“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. planned for withdrawal.

Lucia said he took those experiences with him later that 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 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 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of this country in 2015. An indigenous delegation for Canada is now planned meet 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 be of assistance”.

McCallum explained that, technically, the various papal bulls that make up the doctrine of discovery were largely nullified or canceled 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 to 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 elicit 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 visited Rome in 2016 to urge the Vatican on the Doctrine of Discovery. There, Newcomb and a list of indigenous representatives called a two-hour meeting on the subject with Silvano Maria Tomasi, Archbishop since elevated to Cardinal and member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (since renamed Dicastery for the Promotion of Human Integrity Development).

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

But Newcomb said RNS these efforts did not result in a large-scale rebuke or acknowledgment of responsibility on the part of Catholic leaders, declaring: “There have been answers, but the answers have mostly been dodges. … They don’t take responsibility for anything.

Therefore, he celebrated the 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 (Quaker) all have resolutions adopted condemn the teachings. They were joined last week by the Evangelical Alliance Church, which passed a similar resolution on Friday.

In addition, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization representing a range of Catholic nuns in the United States, also called the pope to cancel the doctrine of discovery in 2014.

Lucia stopped before condemning the Catholic missionaries who operated during the heyday 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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