Pope Francis’ “Penitential Voyage” to the First Peoples of Canada

We have been celebrating the implications of the Webb Telescope for awakening humanity to a healthy sense of our place and time in this  amazing universe which has bestowed so many gifts in bringing forth the Milky Way and then Mother Earth 4.5 billion years ago.

Replication of the Papal Bull, Romanus Pontifex, declaring the Doctrine of Discovery.

It is synchronistic that we are doing so especially since the spotlight is on the indigenous peoples of Canada this week and the primal peoples have never lost the sacredness of Father Sky and Mother Earth.

Pope Francis has just embarked on a six day journey to Canada which he rightly calls a “penitential voyage” to meet with the first peoples of Canada to give a public apology for the abuse and trauma inflicted on their ancestors at Catholic schools in the 19th century up to the 1970’s.*  (Other religious traditions including Anglican, Presbyterian, Mormon as well as state governments are also implicated for similar crimes.)  The Catholic schools in Canada (with parallel stories in the United States for sure) stole 150,000 children away from their families and culture, their language and their ceremonies, in order to force them into Canada’s white society.  Physical and sexual abuse often followed as well.

Apologies are not enough, as the indigenous leaders are demanding an accounting of the children wherever possible and prosecution of those teachers and clergy who committed physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Kevin Haywahe from Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation danced with members of the Catholic Church as part of his audience with Pope Francis. He said he danced for residential school survivors and for those members of the church. Originally posted to YouTube by CBCSaskatchewan.

There is something else surely that Pope Francis can do as penitence for  the sins of the church: That is to renounce publicly the Doctrine of Discovery papal bulls promulgated in the fifteenth century by two popes.  These “doctrines” gave power to Christian kings and queens to confiscate lands and enslave peoples in Africa and the “New World.”  

In 1823, the doctrine of discovery became a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall.  “The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.” 

A fall/redemption theology was at the heart of this imperial conquest by “Christian” potentates and empire builders for the doctrine of discovery promotes original sin in spades—original sin institutionalized, frozen, and projected onto all “non-believers.” It served as the primary instrument in denouncing the primal religions of humankind by demanding their redemption to Christ. Without Christian redemption they were doomed—in this life and the next!  

Every Christian body today should formally renounce it, and the pope should burn it in St. Peter’s Square for all the world to see. (It will be enough to burn only a copy of the bulls—the originals can remain under glass in the Vatican library for all to ponder on for centuries to come.)

*See https://apnews.com/article/pope-francis-canada-religion-edmonton-alberta-b4831ad22056aa2f862f04464966b66e 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic…and Beyond, pp. xxxviii, 116-118.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Pope Francis greets crowd. Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree that it is time to burn the Doctrine of Discovery in St. Peter’s square?  What other penitential actions might Pope Francis offer?

Recommended Reading

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

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15 thoughts on “Pope Francis’ “Penitential Voyage” to the First Peoples of Canada”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Your meditation to day is important in view of native peoples, which you have been a champion for, for years, and I took “Native American Spirituality from Sr. Jose Hobday–which was a real gift for me. But now, Pope Francis has just embarked on a six day journey to Canada which he rightly calls a “penitential voyage” to meet with the first peoples of Canada to give a public apology for the abuse and trauma inflicted on their ancestors at Catholic schools in the 19th and twentieth centuries. And here is something else surely that Pope Francis can do as penitence for the sins of the church: That is to renounce publicly the Doctrine of Discovery papal bulls promulgated in the fifteenth century by two popes. These “doctrines” gave power to Christian kings and queens to confiscate lands and enslave peoples in Africa and the “New World.” And it was a fall/redemption theology at the heart of this imperial conquest by “Christian” potentates and empire builders, for the doctrine of discovery promotes original sin—original sin institutionalized, frozen, and projected onto all “non-believers.” It served as the primary instrument in denouncing the primal religions of humankind by demanding their redemption to Christ. Without Christian redemption they were doomed—in this life and the next! That is a summary of what you shared with us today. But now for our Queries for Contemplation: “Do you agree that it is time to burn the Doctrine of Discovery in St. Peter’s square?” You bet it is. The Church was institutionalizing the stealing of land and children, and nearly wiping out a whole culture. They “believed” God gave this to them, but as Nietzsche wrote: “Strength of belief is no criterion for the truth.” Then you ask: “What other penitential actions might Pope Francis offer?” Corporate repentance for the burning of witches and heretics! I was and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and years ago we made corporate repentance for the people that died in the Salem witch trials. All the Christian countries of the 18th through 20th centuries were guilty of this same tendency of taking what did not belong to them because they felt they were entitled to it by God. Churches feel entitlement!

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      All that you mention in reference to Fall-Redemption, Richard, has nothing to do with understanding the rightful teaching on the subject, only the abuse and corruption of said teaching, and the evil use of many otherwise sound doctrines of Scripture by the imperial Vatican, and other fundamentalists on the religious right in any religion or ideology. Riding the shaky, knee-jerk wave of opinion and group think on the matter only adds to the confusing saga of historical inaccuracies, detracting from your credibility. Truth be told, those dark patriarchal abuses themselves are the very evidence for the sin and natural human depravity that you, Matthew, and others so vigorously deny, and whose terms you avoid using, pretending what they refer to doesn’t exist, isn’t widespread, or isn’t constitutionally inherent in human souls. If sin is rendered null and void, such makes a mockery of redemption, the need for a Redeemer, the cross, regeneration, and most of the apostle’s doctrine given them by Christ. I’m not a recovering Catholic. Truth be told, most folk burned by toxic religious right indoctrination, especially Catholics, tend to discard the theological baby with the bath water. And often end up trading them for agendas so far left of center that it betrays their unresolved contempt for same. Finding the center is not easy, Richard, and while I may not yet have arrived, you guys surely haven’t either. It’s time to consider same so as to learn from each other— unless, of course, the certainty of your stance on such matters remains as equally disdainful and intolerant LEFT of center as those you accuse of being on the RIGHT of it. That also, by the way, is evidence for Fall-Redemption efficacy.

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        I reluctantly agree with you Joe, although it has taken a lifetime to dispose of my innate guilt. But the more time I spent on this planet, the more I despair at the enormous evil that exists.
        As a somewhat senior citizen, I don’t have the answers. But I think Matthews’s approach is a necessary corrective to the intolerance that I see and feel.

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    I think it important to be accurate, fair, and balanced in reviewing church history. Its well-known, even to Matthew, that the undoing of the gospel message and the corruption of the idea of church as “ecclesia” (the called out ones assembled) began when the Romish church came to serve the empire in 313 AD. When any principle, idea, or person becomes subservient to the empire, it runs the risk of becoming politicized, serving domination, power, and control agendas, the hallmark of colonialism. Such are the sinful origins of papal and ecclesial corruption, then and now. So it wasn’t the IDEA of church that was corrupt, only the toxicity and abuse of power and control via the papacy (empire) under corrupt patriarchy. Likewise, with the Fall-Redemtion story, non-toxic in itself, save as the cruel, manipulative, and abusive tool (handmaid) of said toxic system. Don’t mistake the tool (doctrine) for its abusive to serve your own personal agenda. Says here, It is THAT, and the myriad of shadow-side brutalities foisted upon its followers and many peoples of the earth (including indigenous folk) that need FULL public disclosure, conviction, confession and repentance. A partial, selective and/or token repentance of abusive power is more of the same political strategizing, an abominable aggravation of its past evils, an insult to its victims and their progeny, and a stench in the nostrils of the Lord. Both the Roman Church and the U.S. government have yet to FULLY tepent in owning their abuse of power, or in making restitution for their brutish transgressions on the world’s indigenous peoples. So yes, publicly repenting of the Doctrine of Discovery is in order by Francis, but far short of publicly repenting the ENTIRE dark history along those same lines doesn’t fulfill it’s own definition of repentance, and that of God’s. Having maimed or destroyed millions of lives, and only confessing to a few hundred thousand of them, is like stealing $100 million and confessing to only a fraction of same. A half truth is a whole lie. I say, let the Roman Church be judged by a balanced (non-toxic) version and application of its own Fall-Redemption story, self-applied, evidence for the efficacy of same properly applied. After centuries of denial, it’s the best witness to the notion that no man or institution is above God’s moral law without eternal consequence. That is to say, “learn from us, don’t do what we did in forfeiting divine blessing and stewardship.” Such won’t be restored to any sin or sinner until remediated. Such underscores what Peter’s epistles declare, that “judgement must begin at the house God,” and more severely than for those ignorant of God’s laws. And guess what, full repentance ain’t gonna happen, either via of the papacy, or the US government. As to the Fall-Redemption story, let’s not blame the efficacy of Scripture, or, as in this case the one assigned to write it (Moses) for the corrupt use of same among the politicized few in Rome over many centuries, including today. The corruption of the best is the worst, made more so by half-hearted honesty out of fearful loyalty to a hypocritical system that has never been self-honest about its own crimes and need for redemption from sin, one that it so glibly preaches.

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    Yes, Matthew, the Doctrine of Discovery ( Papal Bulls; maybe this should be the derivation of the expression, “bull s…”), should be penitentially burned publicly with education about its historical significance on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
    Your Creation Spirituality has sensitized me a lot to the destructive harm and suffering on peoples and Mother Nature caused in by toxic and unbalanced patriarchal societies in human history the last approximate 8000 yrs. Since we’re all spiritually related in the evolution of our souls, we’ve all been victims and oppressors in our ancestral past, and we all need continued healing of our deeper collective unconscious emotional wounds and merciful forgiveness of our past destructive behavior and guilt. Fortunately, we have faith/trust in our Merciful Compassionate Source~Creator on our eternally evolving souls, and co-Creation~Evolution of our earth, our spiritual multidimensions, and our multiverse Cosmos with Diverse Loving~Wisdom Oneness… our Beloved Cosmic Christ Consciousness….

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    While we’ve made strides (though far from complete) in civil rights and the recognition of the evils of slavery brought upon African Americans, we’ve barely scratched the surface of recognizing the injustice done to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. That we still recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday in many states is a travesty. Contrary to those who feel threatened by the teaching of institutionalized racism, we only grow stronger, more compassionate and our democracy is preserved by owning up to the truth.

    In many ways music, art and poetry provide an avenue for healing. The Native American musical group Brule is impressive in their message of reconciliation:

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      Systemic injustice or the original sin of the world and what we all participate in, some more and some less. The only wat forward towards justice for all is unconditional forgiveness. Justice without forgiveness is unjust. Then we can participate less and less and seek out the Tree of Life that all living things love and share and loved us first. In doing so we can anticipate the wealth Life has to offer in its fullness, for all its hosts.

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        Thank you Peter as your words remind me of Jesus’s unconditional forgiveness as he was dying and wished for us to mirror in each other daily in and through all our vulnerabilities that we witness in ourselves and each other and that is how justice is daily served.

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    In addition to burning and denouncing the doctrine of discovery documents, the pope should take action to return all lands owned by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian organization on Turtle Island to those who occupied that land before the doctrine of discovery laid claim to them for Christendom. The pope should request of the courts in the Americas that any court decisions based on the doctrine should be overturned. See also my https://beyonddisavowing.org/

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    I commend Pope Francis for beginning the retribution process with his heart-felt apology in words…but..As the Gospel of John so brings to us: “The word (Love) became flesh and dwelt among us” All the words of apology and intent of retribution for me must be carried out and implemented in actions in the flesh or they fade into nothingness. The money that the Catholic Church bureaucracy/hierarchy set aside for implementing retribution towards the Native peoples, so abused who lost much of their relationship to their own self identity as Native people and lost identity with the rigid culture that abused them as well
    because of the sexual, identity and physical abuse they endured, has gone instead to lawyers to defend the Catholic Church in abuse suites and to build another Church building. This weakens the much needed apology in its lack of action in retribution. All the insights, admissions, and acknowledgment verbally is incomplete until “right retribution in actions” is given. The identity need to be lost is among the hierarchy of the Catholic Church itself. When will they ever learn? https://youtu.be/1y2SIIeqy34 Apologies must also be implemented in actions of concrete nurturing/healing wounds in retribution as Jesus & Mahatma Gandhi lived and taught. Gandhi said: I know a way out of hell. Well the Catholic Church’s dominating hierarchy seems to still be in it with their inaction and clinging to power rather than love. As Carl Jung and Rollo May explained, Power and Love are the antithesis of each other. https://youtu.be/jRZs36PbW6Y Dr. Darryl Luke Pokea’s Contributing Comment drdarrylpokea.com

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    Thank you, Matthew for your long take on history. I’ve been shocked and demoralized lately by the convolution of Christ’s message by self-serving, nationalistic, undemocratic, small-minded, patriarchal white racists (women among them). I’ve been distressed because I’ve been thinking that this is something new. Here, you are reminding me that Christ’s message has always been used in powerful quarters to be self-serving and nationalistic. You remind us that Christian nationalism has always been a part of the “Christian” church. This is nothing new. It’s a return–a return to the centuries-long, previous doctrine that Christianity is here to be used for self-serving purposes, for insularity and empire-building. What a wicked twisting of Jesus’ message.

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