Church apologizes, better late than never


Galileo Galilei, Italian physicist, astronomer and polymath declared that the earth revolves around an immovable sun and not the other way around. In the 15th century, that was definitely heretical because it contradicted what was written in the Holy Scriptures. Poor Galileo was almost burnt alive by the Holy Inquisition. After 359 years, on Oct. 29, 1992, Pope John Paul II admitted the injustice committed and posthumously exonerated Galileo.

Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., must have been pondering on the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” even before he was ordained. The Christianization and conquest of the Americas, including Argentina, his homeland, was so barbarous it decimated indigenous peoples. He must have read Bartolomé de las Casas, O.P. and Francisco de Vitoria, S.J., early defenders of rights of indigenous of peoples. Now that he is Bishop of Rome and Pontifex Maximus, he has boldly repudiated that 15th century relic known as “Doctrine of Discovery.”

He flew to Iqaluit, a city in Canada’s freezing northwestern region, visited the Nakasuk Elementary School covered with a seal skin blanket and in a wheelchair. In a small cemetery near the school he prayed for 125 children whose bones were recently discovered and buried. They were victims of the “Doctrine of Discovery.” From 1800 to as late as the 1970’s, children from indigenous communities were cruelly torn from their families and forced to attend boarding schools, like Nakasuk Elementary, managed by the Church with government funding. The objective was to obliterate native cultures by forbidding younger generations to speak their language, learn their customs and traditions and forcibly assimilate them into Christian Canadian society.

Is that a sin, a crime? That depends on the laws when the acts were committed, pundits say, invoking the “Doctrine of Intertemporal Law.” Admirably, Pope Francis took it upon himself to make a public confession of injustices committed by the Roman Catholic Church and humbly beg for forgiveness.

Many of us devout followers of the Church never heard about those doctrines and laws that justified conquest, evangelization and colonization. We could have had meaningful debates about those thorny issues during the Quincentennial of Christianization. Instead, historians made an opera about where the first mass was celebrated, Limasawa or Butuan? Dissecting the “Doctrine of Discovery” could have shed more light on how and why we were conquered and Christianized.

Most of us vaguely remember that Pope Alexander VI had such astounding power and influence that he divided the world into two by simply drawing a meridian line, after which he assigned uncharted territories to either Spain and Portugal, two warring kingdoms that threatened world order. He asked their Kings to sign the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. There was a slew of doctrines and papal bulls that led to that.

In 1452, Pope Nicolas V gave the Portuguese the right to enslave Muslims, pagans and other non-believers. Constantinople had fallen and Islam was breaching the borders of Italy and Western Europe. Three years later, in 1455, Romanus Pontifex granted Portugal all lands by Cape Bojador (now part of Morocco) and allowed it to enslave pagans and “enemies of the Church.” As if that were not enough, in 1481, another papal bull, Asterni Regis, added to the Portuguese inventory all lands south of the Canary Islands.

Pope Alexander VI issued Inter Caetera in 1493, to placate the two warring kingdoms. This gave Spain all lands 100 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands and Portugal all the lands east. An amendment followed, the Dumdum sequiden, leading to the Treaty of Tordesillas.

In those days, most theologians believed it was legitimate to conquer indigenous peoples for religious, political and even commercial objectives. On one hand, the sacrament of Baptism automatically transformed conquered natives into subjects of the king, but on the other hand, there were questions as to whether the natives deserved Baptism. In response, Pope Paul III wrote Sublimis deus (1537) to confirm that natives were indeed human beings worthy of conversion.

Brutal and bloody wars of conquest were justified whenever indigenous people refused to be converted and to allow Europeans to transit through their territories for purposes of trade. Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas. O.P., and Francisco de Vitoria, S.J., were champions of human rights of indigenous peoples during the conquest of the Americas and the Caribbean. In Jose Rizal’s annotations of Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, he decried that the Christian religion was frequently imposed with violence and death.

Hermano Pulé (Apolinario de la Cruz) of Tayabas formed the Cofradia de San Jose in 1832 because natives were discriminated against by the Church. He was executed. GOMBURZA, Frs. Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez, Jacinto Zamora was garroted for promoting the secularization of parishes. The Catholic Church should exonerate them; it is never too late.

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