A group of nuns is urging Pope Francis to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery, the set of 15-century papal bulls that gave tacit permission to seize lands and justify colonization of Indigenous Peoples, most notably on Turtle Island.
“When I learned about it, I was horrified,” said Sister Maureen Fiedler, the nun who hand-delivered the letter to Pope Francis, speaking to Religion News Service. She belongs to the Loretto Community, made up of religious women and lay people, the news service said.
As Fiedler pointed out, the doctrine’s tendrils are woven throughout modern race relations, from sports mascots to the wiping out of indigenous languages and cultures, to treaty and sovereignty issues. And it has been on the U.S. legal books since 1823, when it was solidified by a Supreme Court decision that was cited in 2005 in a land case regarding the Oneida, Religion News Service said.
Revoking the doctrine will bring common sense and contemporary wisdom to bear in the 21st century, the letter’s signers said, and “all will know that today’s world is different from that of the 15th century as we move away from patterns of domination and dehumanization,” according to Religion News Service, quoting a resolution drafted in 2012 in collaboration with a member of the Osage Nation. Loretto and 12 other Catholic groups delivered the letter last fall.
It’s not the first time a pope has been asked to rescind the doctrine. In 2006 the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called on Pope Benedict XVI to revoke and renounce those documents, which continue to color relations between the U.S. and Canadian governments with Natives today.
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Many Christian denominations and groups have already done so, including the Episcopal Church and the World Council of Churches.
Pope Francis has, as CNN described it last November, “made headlines by decrying the iniquities of modern capitalism, embracing the poor and people with disabilities and reaching out to gays and lesbians.”
"I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," Pope Francis said in a statement at the time, according to CNN.