Vatican Formally Repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery’

Vatican Formally Repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ April 4, 2023

Image credit:

***CONTENT WARNING: Contains subject matter that may be disturbing for some readers. Discretion is advised.***

After decades of criticism among Indigenous groups, the Vatican has finally repudiated the alleged ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’ This comes nearly one year after Pope Francis apologized on behalf of the Church for the complicity of some members and clergy in the horrific abuses of the residential schools in Canada.

With respect to the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the complete renunciation of the Doctrine of Discovery is a significant development in performative justice for Indigenous people who have suffered at the hands of colonialism. In addition to last year’s visit by Pope Francis to apologize on Canadian soil.

The origins of the Doctrine of Discovery derive from three papal bulls (Dum Diversas in 1452, Romanus Pontifex in 1455 and Inter Caetera in 1493) which seemingly enabled the seizure of Indigenous lands and influenced the development of colonial property laws. Subsequently, the recent official statement cited a latter papal bull Sublimis Deus in 1537 which reaffirms the rights of Indigenous peoples as quoted:

“…notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.”

It is unfortunate that most news sources do not link to the official statement by the Vatican while offering their own special commentary. In light of this, the official statement can be found here on the Vatican website.

A podcast episode of Upfront With The Archbishop dives into further detail of where the Church continually stands on this issue. Archbishop Richard Smith’s opening words on the episode

“The Vatican statement has gone to great pains to indicate this ‘doctrine of discovery’ is not a doctrine of the Church. And so if we don’t… if we’re not careful about that or not clear on that, people might start to think that this is an ecclesial doctrine that the Church Herself has repudiated (or) changed – therefore, what other doctrines might be open to be changed or repudiated? That’s not our approach to what we have handed on through the tradition of the Church. Yes, we repudiate the doctrine of discovery. We repudiate the concepts behind it and so on. But, the sentiment behind that, the Gospel sentiment, is complete abhorrence to this idea that we can just ride roughshod over the dignity of another human being.”


About Rene Albert
I'm Rene Albert. I am a husband to a beautiful wife and a father of three children. I'm also a licensed carpenter and contractor as part of my full-time work. When I'm not busy meeting construction deadlines and chasing little hooligans around the house, I write essays about Catholicism, mere Christian theology and western politics and culture, as well as how they all affect each other. Due to working a full time job in construction, my ability to regularly publish articles is limited. My goal is to eventually become a full-time writer and possibly start up a podcast or Youtube channel. My writing is a labor of love, so if you enjoy my work and feel called to support me on Patreon, I would be very much appreciative! Pax vobiscum! You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives