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Protest against “Rescind the Doctrine” greets Pope in Canada

Protest against "Rescind the Doctrine" greets Pope in Canada
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ST-ANNE-DE-BEAUPRÉ, Quebec (AP) — Pope Francis celebrated mass at Canada’s national shrine on Thursday, facing a long-standing call from indigenous peoples: to rescind papal decrees containing the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and reject the theories that legitimized the confiscation of Native American lands in the colonial era and that form the basis of some property laws today.

Just before Mass began, two indigenous women unfurled a banner at the altar of the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré national shrine that read: “Rescind the Doctrine” in bright red and black letters. The demonstrators were escorted and the mass passed without incident, although the women later marched the banner out of the basilica and draped it on the railing.

The brief protest underscored one of the problems the Holy See is facing afterwards Francis’ historic apology for the Catholic Church’s involvement in Canada’s notorious boarding schools, where generations of Aboriginal people have been forcibly removed from their families and cultures in order to assimilate them into Christian Canadian society. Francis spent the week in Canada atoning for the legacy and on Thursday added another plea for forgiveness from victims of the “evil” of clergy sex abuse.

Beyond the apology, indigenous peoples have called on Francis to officially rescind the 15th-century papal bulls, or decrees, that gave the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms religious support for expanding their territories in Africa and the Americas for the purpose of spreading Christianity. These decrees underpin the Doctrine of Discovery, a legal concept coined in an 1823 US Supreme Court decision, which is now understood to mean that ownership and sovereignty over land passed to Europeans because they “discovered” it. It was only cited in a 2005 Supreme Court decision involving the Oneida Indian Nation.

“These colonizing nation-states, particularly Canada and the United States, have used this doctrine as a basis for their claim to land, which ultimately really means the expropriation of indigenous people’s lands,” said Michelle Schenandoah, a member of the Oneida Nation Wolf clan. She was in Quebec City with a delegation from the Haudenosaunee Confederation to raise the issue with church leaders.

“It was a genocide that lasted more than 500 years and it’s still law today,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited the need for the Holy See to address “the discovery doctrine” as well as other issues, including the return of native artefacts in the Vatican Museumsin his private conversations with Francis on Wednesday, Trudeau’s office said.

Several Christian denominations have officially rejected the teaching in recent years. The Canadian bishops did so in 2016, and the umbrella organization of Catholic women religious in the US, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, formally urged Francis to do so in 2014, saying he should “reject the period of Christian history that uses religion to justify political and religious beliefs used personal violence against indigenous nations and peoples and their cultural, religious and territorial identities.”

Murray Sinclair, First Nations chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, cited that doctrine in a statement this week, welcoming Francis’ apology but urging him to take responsibility for the church’s full role in Canada’s school system .

“Driven by the Doctrine of Discovery and other ecclesiastical beliefs and doctrines, Catholic leaders have not only empowered but pushed the government of Canada even further in its work to commit cultural genocide against indigenous peoples,” Sinclair said.

Church officials have insisted those papal decrees have long since been repealed or replaced with others that fully recognize tribal peoples’ rights to live on their lands, saying the original cops have no legal or moral significance today. During the trip, Francis repeatedly affirmed these rights and rejected the policies of assimilation that pushed the boarding school system.

But both the Vatican and Canadian tour operators have confirmed that a new statement from the church is being prepared to meet calls for an updated, formal denial, although it is not expected to be released during Francis’ visit.

“We understand the desire to name these texts, acknowledge their impact and dismiss the concepts associated with them,” Neil MacCarthy, who is in charge of communications for the papal visit, said in an email to The Associated Press.

When asked about Thursday’s protest, MacCarthy said: “We recognize that there are very passionate feelings about a range of issues, including the Doctrine of Discovery. The brief peaceful protest did not disrupt the service and the group had an opportunity to express their concerns.”

The Vatican clearly anticipated that the problem would arise during the trip. In an essay in the current issue of the Vatican-audited Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, Rev. Federico Lombardi acknowledged that the issue remains important to indigenous peoples, but stressed that the Holy See’s position in rejecting the discovery doctrine is clear.

Lombardi, the Vatican’s retired spokesman, cited the later 1538 bull Sublimis Deus, which asserted that indigenous peoples could not be deprived of their liberty or property, “nor should they be in any way enslaved.”

But Philip Arnold, chair of the religion department at Syracuse University in New York, which sits on Onondaga Nation territory, said the 1538 bull was effectively “a ruse” in that it did not ask European colonial powers to return their lands, which it had already claimed , but rather the “liberty that comes with submission to the Catholic Church and that supportive monarch” elaborated.

“The role of the Vatican in justifying the doctrine of Christian discovery in the 15th century is the genesis of the transatlantic slave trade, land grabs and a settler-colonial resource economy across Africa and the Americas,” he said.

Felix Hoehn, a professor of property and administrative law at the University of Saskatchewan, said any rejection of papal bulls or doctrines today has no legal effect on land claims, but instead has symbolic value.

“The Vatican does not make Canadian law. Courts are not bound by papal bulls or anything, but it would be symbolic,” Hoehn said. “It would increase moral pressure.”

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Winfield reported from Quebec City.

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The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. This content is the sole responsibility of the AP.

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