On Thursday, March the 30th in 2023, the Vatican formally renounced the Doctrine of Discovery.
In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the bull Dum Diversas, which authorized King Afonso V of Portugal to “subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ,” and “reduce their persons to perpetual servitude,” to take their belongings, including land, “to convert them to you, and your use, and your successors the Kings of Portugal.” In 1455, Pope Nicholas V issued Romanus Pontifex, which extended Portugal’s authority to conquer the lands of infidels and pagans for “the salvation of all” in order to “pardon … their souls.” The document also granted Portugal a specific right to conquest in West Africa and to trade with Saracens and infidels in designated areas. Some have argued that these bulls were used to justify the Atlantic slave trade.
The Doctrine of Discovery held that indigenous peoples were sub-human. Within the newly colonized Americas, and specifically the United States, the nation’s Constitution began with three words: “We The People.” And, although it was intended to affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens, that aspirational statement was not understood to include those indigenous to the continent or any other people of color.