Steven Newcomb: On the Vatican and doctrine of discovery
"In its April 20 response to the release of the Preliminary Study of the Doctrine of Discovery, the Vatican claimed that the papal bull Inter Caetera was “abrogated by other papal bulls, for example Sublimis Deus in 1537.” The Vatican quoted Sublimis Deus as stating “Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ.”

1493 to 1537 is a span of 44 years. This means that, as positive as the above text of the bull Sublimis Deus seems, four decades elapsed from the time of the Inter Caetera bull to the issuance of the bull Sublimis Deus. According to Bartolome de Las Casas, millions of indigenous peoples were decimated during those four decades. It was a time of unrestrained carnage and destruction unleashed against Indian nations and peoples in the Americas.

So, then, why is it that we do not find even one Vatican document prior to the bull Sublimis Deus calling for an end to the dehumanization and annihilation of the peoples of “the Indies?” It was only after much intense campaigning by priests such as Montesinos, Bartolome de las Casas, and others that Pope Paul III eventually issued the papal bull Sublimis Deus. This, of course, does not take into account the fact that papal bulls as far back as 1452 had authorized the enslavement, conquest and destruction of non-Christian indigenous peoples along the western coast of Africa.

In its response, the Vatican did not provide any further explanation of what it meant when it said that the Inter Caetera bull was “abrogated” by the bull Sublimis Deus. Does this mean that the bull Sublimis Deus abrogated any and all claims on the part of the Spanish Crown of and to imperial sovereignty over the lands, territories and resources of the Indian nations that had been expressed in or premised on the Inter Caetera bull and other such Vatican documents?"

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: More on the Vatican’s response (Indian Country Today 6/4)

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