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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales


pope francis continues to speak truth to the powerless...his righteous condemnation of the dangers of capitalism and his apology for the church's role in genocide across the america's is welcome...of course his words won't mean anything without our understanding what he said and acting to stop capitalism and the racism involved in the genocide-which still continues today...

what he did not address is the cause of the genocide which also includes the church's role in establishing the slave trade-which also amounts to genocide against africans...that role stems from the "doctrine of discovery" which includes 3 papal bulls written over 570 years ago but still forms the foundation of indian law in usa according to our supreme court...


We are plagued with an inability to recognize the human race as one race in which all possess human rights and the expectation of life with dignity. No amount of rhetoric spewing from the mouths of people can change the fact that the entire foundation of what we call the U.S.A. is mired in racist ideology and practice. There is no questoning the origin of wealth in the U.S. comes directly from the genocide-ethnocide-linguicide of the indigenous peoples of Africa and from the genocide-ethnocide-linguicide of the indigenous peoples of this land. Essentially, the economic growth of the U.S. was fueled by the killing of and theft of land from the indigenous population. The stolen land was sold by the government to “settlers” who relied upon the slavery of indigenous Africans to work the stolen land, thus creating the industrial Revolution upon which fortunes were made. Many of these fortunes still exist especially in the financial sector.

The respective genocide-ethnocide-linguicide of the black and later, the red peoples have their origins in three directives emanating from the Catholic Church in the 15th century, collectively known as the Doctrine of Discovery. The three documents are papal bulls, namely, “Dum Diversas”(1453) [1], “Romanus Pontifex”(1455) [2], and the “Inter Caetera”(1493) [3]. A papal bull is a letter granting a patent or charter to someone by the pope. The document is affixed with the papal stamp known as bulla.

You may wonder what 500+ year old papal bulls have to do with racism in the U.S. Unfortunately, these three documents form the basis of all Indian law in the U.S. Yes, our leaders, past and present, have relied on these bulls in order to deprive basic human rights from the indigenous peoples in the U.S. In 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Johnson v. McIntosh,[4] declared that, based on the Doctrine of Discovery and later on a letter from King Henry VII to John Cabot,[5] Indians had no right to land title; only the right to occupy the land until ordered to vacate the land. Chief Justice Marshall based his decision on the very racist Doctrine of Discovery and this horrendous decision still forms the basis of Indian law. It raised its ugly head most recently in a 2005 decision in the City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation. The case resulted in an 8-1 decision against the Oneida Nation’s claim of land ownership. Our favorite progressive Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the decision and specifically endorsed the decision of 1823 and the papal bulls as well. She wrote, “Under the Doctrine of Discovery, fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign-first the discovering European nation and later the original states and the United States”. [6]

Today , in the 21st century, our government still clings to the dubious assertion emanating from Dum Diversas, that non christians are not human and not entitled to any consideration as human beings. Their land, their possessions, and persons ceased to exist upon “discovery” by then Catholic kingdoms. This war on non- Christians was initiated in Africa, moved to the western hemisphere and onward to Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

The papal bulls, issued by Pope Nicholas V, Dum Diversas (1453) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) were issued to justify Portugal’s seizure of isands, land, people and their possessions in Africa. The bulls granted King Alfonso V of Portugal the right “ to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens (Muslims) and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and ossessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery”.[7] The reference to perpetual slavery of Africans proved to be prophetic as we examine the conditions of Africa and the U.S. today. As Michelle Alexander informs us the plantation has been replaced by prisons. The first sentence of Romanus Pontifex reads as follows: “Nicholas, servant of the servants of God, for a perpetual remembrance”. The “perpetual remembrance” still continues to the detriment of black and red peoples. Red and black people still are reduced “to perpetual slavery” and the Doctrine of Discovery not only has been endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court but Canada and Australia have also cited the Johnson v. McIntosh ruling as foundations of their laws denying human rights to Indigenous people’s. In addition, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have not accepted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Indigenous Persons as adopted by the U.N. Instead they claim this Declaration only identifies aspirations, it is not controlling.

In 1492, Columbus landed in what he named Hispanola, now Haiti and the Domincan Republic. When he returned to Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella petitioned Pope Alexander VI to grant Spain exclusive franchise on the lands it discovered and intended to discover. The pope issued papal bull Inter Caetera (1493)[8] giving Spain all terrority uninhabited by christians west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. Portugal retained its franchise of all lands east of the islands.

Not to be left out of this madness, King Henry VII of England entered the fray by issuing a letter to John Cabot and sons granting Cabot and sons exclusive right to “...find discover, and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed which before this time were unknown to Christians”.[9] Of course this included the same rights and obligations “to subdue, vanquish, take their possessions and reduce them to perpetual slavery”found in the Dum Diversas and Romanus Pontifex. He acknowledged the restrictons placed in the papal bulls regarding land already discovered by Christian nations.

This is the history of the three papal bulls plus Henry VII’s letter to John Cabot. Together they form the Doctrine of Discovery which opened the Age of European imperialism. Racist to its core, the Doctrine uses religious cover to disguise its true intentions to enslave people and steal the resources of their land and sea, still going on today. It is beyond incredible these papal bulls have acheived the legal staus as foundational to Indian law in the U.S.,followed by the adoption of the same in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The first two bulls opened the international slave trade and the subsequent killing of Africans and looting of resources from Africa by European nations which still continue today. The three bulls as well as Henry VII’s letter combined to open the gates of hell to the Indigenous people of the western hemisphere.

Pope Francis is coming to America in September. To this date the Catholic Church has not repudiated or condemned the three papal bulls which constitute the Doctrine of Discovery. The papal bulls essentially declared war on non-Catholics living outside Europe. Some will say this war still rages today in the form of a race war. If Pope Francis is sincere in addressing the criminal behavior of the Catholic Church, then he will make a clear statement repudiating and condemning these documents. Further, he must also inform those nations who continue to rely on the Doctrine of Discovery to deny basic human rights to black and red people that the documents no longer existand the nations are wrong in continuing to rely on them.

We can see now the fates of black and red people have been inexorably tied together since 1453 when the first papal bull, identifying the Doctrine of Discovery was issued. The continued theft of resources in Africa and the U.S. still continues. The political and economic enslavement of red and black people still exists. Enough is enough, repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.

In the U.S. we must bring forth a discussion on the unconstitutional rulings by the Supreme Court beginning with Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) and continuing to City of Sherrill v. Oneida Nation (2005). We have always held there is a separation of Church and State. No national religion is permitted by the Constitution, yet our highest court has consistently ruled in favor of the christian view of indigenous peoples and that view is that they are less than human. However, the courts are not alone.

If we are unwilling to agitate to right this wrong, any chance of diminishing racism in this land will vanish. The Doctrine of Discovery forms the root of today’s racist actions, thoughts, and government policies-both written and unwritten.

Further evidence of the continuing dominance of the Doctrine of Discovery is the decision of the Catholic Church to canonize (make a saint) Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish priest who established a series of 21 Catholic missions fromn San Diego to San Francisco. The sole purpose of these missions was to carry out the mandate of the Doctrine of Discovery.

In 1514, Charles I of Spain directed Spanish conquerors to read the documant Requerimento[10] to all natives they encountered. The Requerimento, written and read in Spanish was gibberish as far as the native people were concerned. The document first established the European version of human history wherein God chose Saint Peter and his successors as head(s) of the entire human race, wherever they lived. Emanating from this claim was the duty to convert all non christians into christianity. The document demanded indigenous people accept the Church and its pope as: “superior authorities of these islands and Mainlands...If you do not do this, however, or resort maliciously to delay, we warn you that, with the aid of God, we wil enter your land against you with force and will make war in every place and by every means we can are able, and we wil then subject you to the yoke and authority of the Church and Their Highnesses. We will then take you and your wives and children and make them slaves, and as such we will sell them, and will dispose of you and them as Their Highnesses order, and we will take your property and we will do to you all the harm and evil we can, as is done to vassals (slaves) who do not obey their lords (masters) or who do not wish to accept him or who resist and defy him. We avow the deaths and harm which you will receive thereby will be your own blame, and not that of Their Highnesses, nor ours, nor the gentlemen who came with us”.[11]

Father Junipero Serra was truly loyal to the Requerimento as is evidenced in the historical accounts. In each of the missions he caused to be built was a whipping post in the courtyard. Those who resorted “maliciously to delay” in accepting the Church or those who refused to obey their “lords” were tortured or killed in Serra’s missions. They did not want to give up their beliefs, their language, their culture and traditions. The indigenous Africans lost all of their past when they were placed in the bottom of the slave ships.

Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of the Costanoan/Ohlone Indians wrote an open letter to Pope Francis on February 24, 2015.[12] He has not recieved an answer. This excerpt from the letter describes some of Serra’s techniques: When you announced recently that youwould canonize Fr. Junipero Serra we were in absolute disbelief. It is incomphrehensible for us to think you would canonize a person who is ultimately responsible for the death of approximately 100,000 California Indians and the complete exterminationof many Native tribes, cultures and languages. The brutality of Fr. Serra is well documented in his own writings. On July 31, 1775 Fr. Serra wrote a letter to Spanish Governor Fernando de Rivera y Moncado requesting that he punish four Indians for attempting to run away from San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo mission. Fr. Serra wrote, “I am sending them to you so that a period of exile, and two or three whippings which Your Lordship may order to be applied to them on different days may serve, for them and all the rest, for a warning, may be of spiritual benefit to all; and this last is the prime motive of our work. If Your Highness does not have shackles, with your permission they may be sent from here. I think the punishment should for a month”.[12] Noam Chomsky has spoken about the technology used to enforce slavery, the whip and the gun. The proposed saint, by his own words seems well-versed in this technology.

The Catholic is soley responsible for naming its own saints of that we are clear. It alone controls the process. What is surprising is Pope Francis has, by his speech and actions, become a beloved and respected leader of his church. He seems to be embracing the doctrine of liberation theology as evidenced by the canonization of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, murdered by U.S. backed death squads during the U.S. war on the Catholic Church in Latin America in the 80’s.

Now he seems to be reversing himself, embracing the Doctrine of Discovery and the Requerimanto by canonizing Fr. Serra.

We can and should speak as loudly and clearly against this as we should speak loudly and clearly against the Doctrine of Discovery before and while he is here.

However, should Pope Francis proceed with canonizing Fr. Junipero Serra, he should also designate Serra as the patron saint of torturers. Perhaps statues of Serra could be strategically placed at Guantanamo and all the jails and prisons here in the United States.

[1]. Text of Dum Diversas.

[2]. Popes For Slavery-Romanus Pontifex by Nicholas V.

[3]. The Bull Inter Caetera.

[4]. United Nations, Economic and Social Council. Preliminary study of the impact of the international legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery. O4/02/2010. Pp 16-19.

[5]. Letter by Henry VII to John Cabot and his Sons, March 1496.

[6]. UN. 04/02/2010. Page 19.

[7]. Dum Diversas

[8]. Inter Caetera

[9]. Henry VII to Cabot.

[10]. Requerimento.

[11]. Open letter from Valentin Lopez to Pope Francis.

[12]. Lopez to Pope Francis

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