WelCom May 2023
The Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand strongly support the Vatican’s repudiation of the colonial-era concept of the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ used by European powers to take over many lands from their indigenous owners.
A joint statement published 30 March 2023 from the Vatican’s dicasteries for Culture and for Integral Human Development, formally repudiates ‘those concepts that fail to recognise the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political “Doctrine of Discovery”.’
The Doctrine had as its basis ‘papal bulls’ (decrees) issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1455 and Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granting European monarchs the authority to seize inhabited lands in Africa and the Americas, establish European colonies and convert the people of those lands to Christianity. Though those bulls were rejected by Pope Paul III in 1537, many European powers continued to use the Doctrine of Discovery as the basis for colonisation.
According to the Vatican’s joint statement, ‘thanks to dialogue with indigenous peoples, the Church has acquired a greater awareness of their sufferings, past and present, due to the expropriation of their lands…as well as the policies of forced assimilation, promoted by the governmental authorities of the time, intended to eliminate their indigenous cultures.’
The document states that the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ – a theory that served to justify the expropriation by sovereign colonisers of indigenous lands from their rightful owners – ‘is not a part of the teaching of the Catholic Church.’ It further affirms that the papal bulls that granted such ‘rights’ to colonising sovereigns have never been a part of the Church’s Magisterium.
The joint statement further adds, ‘More recently, the Church’s solidarity with indigenous peoples has given rise to the Holy See’s strong support for the principles contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The implementation of those principles would improve the living conditions and help protect the rights of indigenous peoples as well as facilitate their development in a way that respects their identity, language and culture.
The Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand have been carefully considering calls in recent years by Māori leaders for the Catholic Church to reject the Doctrine of Discovery.
‘In the 21st Century we abhor the kind of belief that one group of people is superior to another and reject it absolutely,’ the bishops say jointly in a statement issued on 31 March. in welcoming the Vatican’s repudiation of the Doctrine.
‘We say to the Māori leaders who asked us to reject the Doctrine and to all other people of this country that we reject it absolutely and without reservation. Such a doctrine has no place in our world and should not be part of any discourse about this country’s future directions.’
@ John Dew, Cardinal Archbishop of Wellington, Apostolic Administrator of Palmerston North and NZCBC President
@ Michael Dooley, Bishop of Dunedin
@ Michael Gielen, Bishop of Christchurch
@ Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Auckland, Apostolic Administrator of Hamilton and NZCBC Secretary
@ Paul Martin sm, Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington.
The Joint Statement of the Dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development on the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, is online in full at: www.catholic.org.nz/assets/Vatican-30-March-Doctrine-of-Discovery-repudiation.pdf
Sources: NZCBC; Vatican News