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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vatican distances itself from colonial-era ‘doctrine of discovery’

A nun walks across Piazza Pope Pius XII in Rome, by The Vatican in St. Peter's square (Rear) on March 30, 2023.    (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)

ROME — The Vatican has distanced itself from a colonial-era doctrine used to justify crimes against indigenous peoples, including slavery, saying it is not “part of the teachings of the Catholic Church,” according to a statement released on Thursday.

The statement, which came from two dicasteries or ministries in the Holy See, was mainly focused on distancing the Church from the so-called “doctrine of discovery.”

Catholic colonial rulers used to consider this doctrine a justification for the displacement, disenfranchisement and dispossession of indigenous people in colonized territories.

A statement by the Vatican authorities for culture, education and human integral development said many Christians had “committed evil acts against indigenous communities.”

The old papal decrees, which the former colonizers used as a justification for their actions, should be considered as political documents, it added.

The joint statement was made about eight months after Pope Francis’ visit to Canada, where he asked indigenous people for their forgiveness in light of the abuse at Catholic boarding schools.

Beginning in the 1880s, an estimated 150,000 indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and placed in church-run boarding schools over a period of decades.

At these boarding schools, many children experienced violence, sexual abuse, starvation, and disease. Hundreds never returned home. The last church-run boarding schools closed in 1996.