Editorial from Indigenous Action rejecting the Catholic Church’s so-called ‘repudiation’ of genocide and colonialism.
On March 30th, 2023 a joint statement was released by administrative departments of the Vatican City-State condemning “acts of violence, oppression, social injustice and slavery, including those committed against indigenous peoples.” The Catholic Church stated that it “…repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery’.”
We are used to the deceptions of the church, this “repudiation” is no exception.
The words of the Catholic Church are nothing more than an attempt to damage control and downplay their genocidal legacy while obscuring their ongoing benefit from and perpetuation of colonial violence.
In 1493 the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” was issued by Pope Alexander VI. The document established the “Doctrine of Discovery” and was central to Spain’s Christianizing strategy to ensure “exclusive right” to enslaved Indigenous Peoples and lands invaded by Columbus the year prior. This decree also made clear the Pope’s threat to forcibly assimilate Indigenous Peoples to Catholicism in order to strengthen the “Christian Empire.” This doctrine of “civilization” led to successive generational patterns of genocidal and ecocidal wars waged by European settler colonizers against Indigenous lives, lands, spirit, and the living world of all of our relations. “Manifest destiny,” the intensified invasion of Indigenous lands in the so-called U.S., was inspired and sanctioned by this religious “Doctrine.”
In 1823 the “Doctrine of Discovery” was written into U.S. law as a way to deny land rights to Indigenous Peoples in the Supreme Court case, Johnson v. McIntosh. In a unanimous decision, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that Christian European nations had assumed complete control over the lands of “America” during the “Age of Discovery.” And in declaring “independence” from the Crown of England in 1776, he noted that the U.S. had in effect and thus by law inherited authority over these lands from Great Britain, “notwithstanding the occupancy of the natives, who were heathens…” According to the ruling, Indigenous Peoples did not have any rights as independent nations, but only as tenants or residents of the U.S. on our own lands. The papal bull inter caetera was enshrined in U.S. law and continues to be the basis of colonial legal domination of Indigenous existence.
The Doctrine of Discovery has long been contested by Indigenous Peoples. Multiple delegations since the 1970s have visited Vatican City and demanded repudiation. In occupied Hawaii, an annual ceremonial burning of the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” has been held since 1997.
In response to the Catholic Church’s repudiation, some Indigenous organizations have criticized the statement and are issuing demands for the Catholic Church to take “accountability.” Deborah Parker, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition stated, “While the Vatican’s decision to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery is the right one, it downplays the Church’s role and accountability for the harm it has caused to Native peoples. It does not change the fact that the Church’s views gave permission to colonizers to take Native lands and assimilate Native peoples… We demand more transparency, including access to Indian boarding school documents, which they have refused to provide. We demand that the Church returns lands to the Tribal Nations in which it operated Indian boarding schools. We demand that the Church supports the Truth and Healing Bill, which would establish a federal commission and conduct a full inquiry into the assimilative policies of U.S. Indian boarding schools. And we demand that the Church respects Tribal sovereignty and Indigenous ways of being.”
With the 215 remains of Indigenous children uncovered in 2021 in a mass grave at a residential school in “Canada,” collective Indigenous rage was sparked to address the brutal legacy of forced colonial education. The strategy of boarding or residential schools, as they are called in so-called Canada, was part of a political, religious, and ideological war waged against Indigenous Peoples that targeted children.
In 2007, after decades of advocacy for reparations in so-called Canada, a settlement was agreed upon in the largest class action settlement ever faced by the colonial government. The settlement included a $10,000 “common experience” payment to the approximately 90,000 people who survived residential schools with an additional $3,000 for every year they were held at the schools. Approximately $200 million was allocated for funding for healing and educational programs. As part of this process, the Catholic Church has paid over $50 million and has offered to pay $30 million more.
A group called the Truth Commission into Genocide in “Canada,” which has charged that the residential schools were responsible for the deaths and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous children, rejected the deal stating, “This bribe and legal gagging is being presented as a final ‘resolution’ of the claims of residential school survivors, as if such unspeakable crimes as mass sterilizations, gang rape, ritualistic torture and murder are resolvable by or reducible to an issue of money…”
On April 1, 2022 the Pope apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in violent assimilation through “Canadian” residential schools. In a written statement, the Pope acknowledged colonial “lack of respect” and forced assimilation and said, “For the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart: I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”
In the recent statement of repudiation, the Catholic Church has the audacity to say that while many Catholics “…gave their lives in defense of the dignity of [Indigenous] peoples… Many Christians have committed evil acts against indigenous peoples for which recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions… As Pope Francis has emphasized, their sufferings constitute a powerful summons to abandon the colonizing mentality and to walk with them side by side, in mutual respect and dialogue, recognizing the rights and cultural values of all individuals and peoples. In this regard, the Church is committed to accompany indigenous peoples and to foster efforts aimed at promoting reconciliation and healing.”
They absurdly state, “…the Church is committed to accompany indigenous peoples and to foster efforts aimed at promoting reconciliation and healing.”
But we hear more theocratic lies as authoritarian religious dogmatists still spit their texts while murdering in the name of their god.
We do not desire to be “accompanied” by the church to heal. It is in its shadow that our trauma and abuse continue. We refuse to have our hand held by our abuser who is also attempting to set by which terms we may “heal.” Statements of historical remorse change nothing if systems of colonial domination and exploitation remain.
The Church directly asks for forgiveness, “It is only just to recognize these errors, acknowledge the terrible effects of the assimilation policies and the pain experienced by indigenous peoples, and ask for pardon.”
To this we state fuck their forgiveness. How dare they ask for “pardon” while they sit on a throne paid for by stolen wealth, lands, lives and resources throughout the world? We look forward to the day their walls crumble around them and the empires their ideals built are nothing but smoldering ash and ruin.
Christianity as a whole has long been a primary institution of cis-heteropatriarchal colonial violence which perpetuated mass femicide during the “inquisition.” The Malleus Maleficarum and preceding papal bull Summis desiderantes affectibus were explicitly used to demonize and murder Indigenous “pagan witches” throughout Europe. The doctrine was the basis of the white supremacist initiated genocidal inquisition to remove Jews, Muslims, Roma, and land-based indigenous cultures from Europe while they set out to destroy and colonize indigenous lands in Africa and the so-called Americas.
The history of their faith is written in the blood. They cannot truly repudiate the discovery doctrine because it is the foundation of their “civilization.” Christian civilization has always been a spiritual war of domination of Mother Earth. At every massacre of Indigenous Peoples, a cross. In every Indigenous child’s boarding school desk, a bible. On nearly every slave ship from Africa, a devout Christian at the helm.
We do not speak of colonialism in the past-tense.
The systematic domination and annihilation of Indigenous Peoples and lifeways, women, and queer people in the “name of God” continues throughout the world. The Doctrine of Discovery fuels current missionary work by Catholics and other Christian sects who are violently trying to convert Indigenous Peoples throughout the world. They draw their missionizing tactics from the practices that the Catholic Church developed during the inquisition and colonial conquests. There’s no difference between current evangelical, Mormon, jehovah witness, or any other missionary projects invading Africa, South “America,” and reservations. All Christian denominations doing missionary work are part of the doctrine’s legacy which continues to sanction the forcible assimilation of Indigenous Peoples to this day.
This is also the legacy that White Supremacist Christian nationalists are still rallying to uphold throughout the so-called U.S. They attempt to bury historical violence in attacks on the specter of “Critical Race Theory” while further dehumanizing queer folks and attacking women’s bodily autonomy. The facade of mass scale victim blaming and scapegoating is not enough to escape the consequences of a history of genocide, enslavement, and ecocide.
The Catholic Church attempts to rewrite history and distance themselves from their role and responsibly in mass-scale violence systematically waged throughout the world against the Earth and existence.
The recent statement says, “The ‘doctrine of discovery’ is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Historical research clearly demonstrates that the papal documents in question, written in a specific historical period and linked to political questions, have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith… these documents were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities.”
In spite of Indigenous protests, Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra as a saint in 2015. In 1769 Serra founded the first of 21 missions in so-called “California.” Under Serra’s leadership, tens of thousands of Indigenous people were forcibly enslaved and brutalized. As racist statues were torn down during the George Floyd uprisings of 2020, statues of Junipero Serra (at least 7 were toppled or beheaded), Christopher Columbus, and other colonial monuments were also destroyed. In so-called California 5 people were charged with felonies for their alleged role in toppling a Serra monument (Support here: https://linktr.ee/Decolonizers_Defense).
From Po’pay to Toypurina, Indigenous ancestors burned their missions to the ground and killed their missionaries to defend Mother Earth and all existence. As more bodies of Indigenous children have been found in mass graves at residential schools in so-called Canada, a reported 68 Christian churches have been vandalized with many being consumed by fires set by Indigenous rage and vengeance.
No apology will ever be enough. Excuses are not enough, an obligatory debt is owed in so many forms yet how could we ever claim it? While many demand reparations, we must counter: We do not seek any form of payment or recompense but the ruin of those institutions and ideals of domination, control, and exploitation. We make no demands of that which we seek to abolish. As sacred sites remain under attack and as intergenerational wounds remain open, we continue to resist the extremely brutal and ongoing legacies of colonial religious violence. Their repudiation is over 500 years too late. We seek abolition and revenge.
Read our previous post: Colonial Education is Still War. Indigenous knowledge & rage is power.
Columbus and Other Cannibals The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism, Jack Forbes
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz