'Throughout history, Popes have condemned acts of violence, oppression, injustice and slavery, including those committed against indigenous people.' This is how the communiqué issued jointly by the Dicasteries of Culture and Education and Service to Integral Human Development began.
In the statement, the Vatican opposes the so-called 'doctrine of discovery.' They call it a misuse of the Church's teachings between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries used to justify seizing lands and belongings from indigenous peoples by twisting papal documents that did not allow it.
The communiqué continued, stating: 'Many Christians have committed evil acts against indigenous people. Recent popes have asked forgiveness for these acts on numerous occasions.'
The Dicasteries note that recent dialogue with indigenous people, especially those who are Catholic, have helped the Church understand the suffering involved in the loss of their lands, which they consider a sacred gift from God and their ancestors.
Many indigenous people also suffered from the assimilation policies implemented by governments during that time. During his trip to Canada last year, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the participation of some members of the Church.
I am deeply hurt. I ask forgiveness for the way in which, unfortunately, many Christians adopted the colonialist mentality of the authorities that oppressed the indigenous peoples.
Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendoça, Prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, stated that the Church is building “an architecture of reconciliation.”
Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastrery for Promoting Integral Human Development, added that the Church “rejects any word or action that does not recognize human dignity.”
The U.S. and Canadian Bishops' Conferences have also expressed their views on the Dicasteries' statement. The Canadian bishops welcome the Church's endorsement of the principles of the United Nations in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The U.S. bishops have asked for prayers and healing for those who continue to suffer from the legacy of colonialism.