The papacy being what it is, it finds it very difficult to admit mistakes.  The fact that Pope Francis did so is significant. 

Catholic Church repudiates – but does not rescind – the Doctrine of Discovery that justified Indigenous oppression. CBC News

For years I have been proposing that Pope Francis burn the Doctrine of Discovery in St. Peter’s square with live television recording it.  Maybe he will go on to do that.  But his statement is the next best thing. 

And if he wants to keep the original documents under glass in the Vatican museum that’s okay too—just as they have the papal condemnation of the Magna Carta under glass in the British museum.  He can burn a xeroxed copy of the Doctrine of Discovery instead on live  television cameras in St. Peter’s Square.

But a lot more papal mistakes need admitting and confessing.  One reader wrote, “Can they decanonize Junipero Serra?”  And I would add, decanonize Pope John Paul II and Jose Maria Escriva?  The latter being founder of the fascist movement Opus Dei so well represented on today’s dark Supreme Court and other places of deep influence such as the media and finance?

Author Michael Lofton examines the complete remarks by Cardinal Ottaviani on the New Mass and discovers a covered-up endorsement. Reason & Theology

Popes find it very hard to admit the mistakes of their forefathers.  As one observer, an ex-Franciscan priest put it to me, “Remember Cardinal Ottaviani: ‘The church has never been in error. It has proceeded from truth to truth.’  Same bullshit!”

I haven’t heard Ottaviani’s name invoked in many decades, but his voice of dissent was very loud at Vatican II and, sad to say, much of the previous two papacies carried on his mindset for 34 years. 

So Pope Francis finally turning his back on the Discovery Doctrine points to other issues facing institutionalized Christianity today.  After all, it took the papacy 500 years to admit they were wrong about Galileo and that came with a pledge under Pope John Paul II that they had learned a lesson about science and religion. 

PBS anchor Geoff Bennett and Paul Elie of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs discuss Pope Francis’ incremental changes in Roman Catholic positions toward homosexuality. PBS NewsHour

Yet for fifty years since that pledge, the Vatican and many other Christian churches have ignored science’s teachings about the diversity of sexual expression among humans.  Homosexual and trans people are facing as much ignorance and oppression as before science spoke up in 1973.

How much longer must we wait for religion to get it right this time around?  Must we wait the 600 years it took to say No to the Doctrine of Discovery?

No wonder 75% of 18 to 30 year olds identify as “spiritual but not religious.”

See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 92, 250f., 265-67, 297f, 379, 435.

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

Banner Image: Seat of papal authority: “Ex Cathedra” – the chair of St. Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

What does “spiritual but not religious” mean to you?  Are you willing to wait patiently for 600 years to recognize the rights and dignity of gay, lesbian and trans people to be recognized by religions of the world?  Or do you think science has something to teach religion about the diversity of sexual expression and gender identity?

Recommended Reading

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

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15 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Discovery & Papal Fallibility”

  1. Avatar

    God cannot be institutionalized. A living God, a living Jesus in our midst, and the Holy Spirit, cannot be contained and institutionalized. We must understand that ‘institutions’ run their course and lose their ‘perceived power’.

    Seekers, including the lost souls among us, are still searching for and want the comfort of God’s presence but are fleeing the ‘institution’ which is embroiled in daily drama despite good works of pastoral care and outreach to the poor / helpless. Sometimes fleeing is not an option but a necessity. The next major transformation in Christ’s Catholic church will not be in any way, shape, or form, be just another version of Vatican transformation. The transformation of a decentralized Catholic faith or whatever it shall be called is happening already in the now. The Vatican is being demoted in rank by the populace of Jesus’ faithful, as they are disrupting and dislodging the ‘burdensome middleman’ that stands between God, Christ, Spirit and themselves and more importantly the excluded and lost children of Christ. Jesus Christ is ‘tearing the curtain’ again is He not? — BB.

    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Patrick, would you agree
      – there is a huge difference between being “Christian” and being a “Christ Follower?”

    2. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Patrick, would you agree
      – there is a huge difference between being “Christian” and being a “Christ Follower?”

  2. Avatar

    RESCIND The Doctrine of Discovery once and for all!

    Popes are human men and of course are fallible!

    Catholic church and its’ male priests is one of many toxic and unbalanced patriarchal institutions in societies with their destructive influences in human history, except for the saints and mystics of all genuine spiritual traditions.

    One of the signs of genuine spiritual traditions are those that recognize the sacredness of All life and living creatures, and the Unconditional Love of our Mother~Father Creator Source Present within, through, among Us in All ongoing co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution in our beautiful sacred Mother Earth, and All our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos….


    1. Avatar
      Carol Vaccariello

      Damian, thank you for sharing your heart.
      Sacredness of All life and living creatures, YES!
      Unconditional Love of our Mother~Father Creator Source Present within, YES!
      All ongoing co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution in our beautiful sacred Mother Earth, YES!
      All our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos….YES!

  3. Avatar

    NPR’s Fresh Air segment on 4/3/23 included an interview with Bart Ehrman, author
    of the book Armmageddon. It is fascinating and scary to garner more evidence of
    how fear and greed can lead us to adapt religious views like the rapture in which a
    small group of people are saved from the wrath of an angry father god – not so far
    in theory from the Doctrine of Discovery. It is concerning that a group of right-wing
    politicians continue to promote alliances with Israel based on biblical prophecies
    rather than on compassion and justice for people and the earth. I was hoping Professsor
    Ehrman might mention Creation Spirituality as an anecdote to the fall/redemption

  4. Avatar

    Religion at its best should be a binding together of all, and it has so seldom been at its best except in small groups within the institutions or in religious groups like the Quakers. It is tragic that the “church” has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the recognition of the sacredness of creation and all people instead of being leaders. And even yet, those religious institutions that honor the holiness of all are in the minority. Sociology 101 teaches that the main function of any institution ultimately becomes maintenance of itself. The aim of many Protestant churches is to keep reforming, but this is honored much more in the breach than in the observance. Followers of the Way of Jesus or of Buddha or other great spiritual leaders appear always to be in the minority. I never know quite what “spirituality” means. Sometimes it seems to be some kind of self-help trip without much concern for others. To me, it means the awareness of the sacredness of all, and that always calls for compassion and speaking up for those who are being oppressed. And we cannot wait for any pronouncement from any religious leader or institution. Jesus said it and lived it and paid for it with his life.

  5. Avatar

    Now that the Supreme Court smashed Roe, the Republicans and Conservative Elites needed to find — or create — a new, potentially polarizing controversy that appealed to its key voting group — rural and older citizens. So they’ve cynically screamed “Catastrophic Doom!” about an issue that most politicians really could care less about: gay/trans rights. Blanketing the country with bans of anything that even hints of gay existence, erecting Talibanesque bans on books in public libraries, all of it is their way of trying to convince people that only they, the ruling elite, can benevolently hold the “gay invasion” at bay and return the country to the “good old days.” And all of it is paid for by nearly-unlimited dark money.

    But gay identity is already solidly embraced all around the world by the younger, under-30 generation, and the internet and personal phones hold more of that generation’s community than the towns, schools and churches that are trying so hard to hide gay from sight. Modern gay identity is already a “done deal” and the politicians know it. But they need a “plausible” issue NOW in order to harvest rural and older-folks’ votes and divert attention away from their authoritarian power-consolidation while raking in the panic-donations. And if their political ploy of demonizing gays destroys lives here and there, they’re okay with that. It’s all about power, not people.

    1. Avatar

      I would add immigrants and women and girls to the groups targeted for hatred and oppression. One of many repressive bills in Florida is to ban licenses for immigrants and to use checks on those who have them now for an excuse to deport them, also felony charges to anyone who helps an undocumented immigrant.

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