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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican has abrogated three papal bulls, claiming that the documents are offensive to indigenous peoples and "have never been considered expressions of the Catholic faith."
The bulls Dum Diversas (1452), Romanus Pontifex (1455) and Inter Caetera (1493) contain the basis for the "doctrine of discovery," which "is not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church," the Vatican has announced.
"The Church acknowledges that these papal bulls did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples," the dicasteries for Culture and Education and for Promoting Integral Human Development said in a joint statement published Thursday.
The Vatican dicasteries quoted Pope Francis' words endorsing the repeal of the bulls: "Never again can the Christian community allow itself to be infected by the idea that one culture is superior to others, or that it is legitimate to employ ways of coercing others."
Since the Magisterium "upholds the respect due to every human being," the "Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political 'doctrine of discovery,'" the Vatican statement categorically declared.
The bulls' contents "were manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities," the statement added.
But top Islamic scholars told Church Militant that the Vatican had annulled the bulls not so much because of their purported relationship to colonialism and slavery but because the documents were offensive to Islam and an obstacle to ongoing dialogue.
"The revocation of these bulls is likely the result of Francis' ongoing 'dialogue' with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb," Robert Spencer, Islamic scholar and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades), told Church Militant.
"That 'dialogue' only resumed, after al-Tayeb broke it off during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, when Francis agreed not to criticize Islam or speak out against Muslim persecution of Christians. Al-Tayeb, meanwhile, made no similar concessions. The 'dialogue' is entirely one-sided," Spencer noted.
"The public repudiation of these long-forgotten documents is intended to buttress the pope's efforts to engage Islamic groups in this dialogue, which results only in the issuance of soothing falsehoods and will not prevent a single Christian from Muslim persecution," Spencer added.
"By spinning and condemning these bulls as 'xenophobic' calls to justify slavery, it seems that the Vatican is really, as usual, trying to appease Islam, in keeping with Pope Francis's and Grand Imam al-Tayeb's 'rapprochement' — which continues to be one way," Islamic historian Raymond Ibrahim told Church Militant.
"The above-referenced bulls were primarily focused on neutralizing Muslim powers that were otherwise creating mass havoc from one end of Christendom to the other," Ibrahim argued.
Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West, explained:
Dum Diversas was issued the same year (1452) that Sultan Muhammad II laid siege to Constantinople, leading to its brutal fall in 1453. At the same time, Muslims from North Africa were terrorizing the Iberian Peninsula and the broader Mediterranean through constant and devastating slave raids. Thus, whether in Christendom's furthest east (Constantinople) or west (Iberia), Muslims were massacring and enslaving countless Christians.
Ibrahim said that the bulls "were designed to inspire Europeans to rise up and defend Christendom against Muslims — to 'restrain the savage excesses of the Saracens and of other infidels, enemies of the Christian name,' to quote from the Romanus Pontifex."
"Because some of these bulls deal with Christians invading and seeking to conquer North Africa, modern-day Islamophiles have sought to present these as wars of conquest and colonization," the historian and expert in the Crusades noted.
It is often 'forgotten' that these 'Muslim' lands were Christian, centuries before Islam invaded and conquered them in the seventh century. The popes were well aware of this, and, as such, these expeditions were seen as Just Wars, both to quell Muslim aggression, but also to return North Africa and the Middle East to Christendom — including by liberating the indigenous Christians, who, in the 15th century, were experiencing especially severe bouts of persecution, for example under Egypt's Mamluk dynasty.
In fact, all three bulls are mentioned together in volume seven of the scholarly series Christian–Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History — Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and South America (1500-1600), published in 2015 by the academic publisher Brill.
"The Dum Diversas of 1452 authorized the king of Portugal to attack, conquer and subdue not only Muslims but also pagans and other unbelievers and to seize their goods and territories, transferring them to his own possession," the book notes.
In its Latin text, Romanus Pontifex encourages "Catholic kings and princes" to "not only repress the ferocity of the Saracens [Muslims] and the other infidel enemies of the Christians but also conquer their kingdoms and places, even if they exist in very distant and unknown parts from us, for the defense and increase of the Faith."
The bull condemns "the perfidious enemies of the Cross, especially the Saracens and all the other infidels" and orders the excommunication of those who send the Muslims "weapons and other things prohibited by the law."
It authorized King Alfonso of Portugal to "invade, conquer, defeat and subjugate all Saracens and pagans and other enemies of Christ" and to "enslave their persons perpetually" and seize their possessions for profit.
Pope Nicholas V ends the bull with a warning that no one may "infringe or rashly contradict his decree. ... But if anyone does attempt this, let him know that he will incur the indignation of almighty God and His blessed Apostles Peter and Paul."
In Dum Diversas, Nicholas V commends Alfonso for intending "to subjugate the enemies of Christ, i.e. the Saracens, and bring them back to the faith of Christ with a mighty hand," noting that "the authority of the Apostolic See supports you in this."
Dum Diversas ends with a similar proscription:
It is therefore permissible for no man to diminish this page of our concession, reparation, will, indult and decree, or oppose it with rash initiative. If anyone dares to attack her, let him know that he is about to incur the wrath of Almighty God and the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
Inter Caetera both "confirmed the terms" of Romanus Pontifex and "specified that the spiritual jurisdiction of the regions conquered was to lie with the Order of Christ, the successors to the Knights Templar in Portugal," the Brill book explains.
"These bulls, with their statements about how important it is to resist the efforts of Islam to conquer and subjugate Christians, embarrass Pope Francis and today's Vatican," Spencer said, lamenting how the pope "is wholeheartedly committed to the fond and false notion that 'dialogue' with Islam will blunt, and possibly even extinguish, the jihad imperative."
"The recent histories of Nigeria, Iraq and elsewhere show how false and damaging that idea really is," Spencer warned.
In July 2022, two protestors with a large banner confronted the pontiff during Mass at the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica outside Quebec City and asked him to rescind the "doctrine of discovery."
However, in a statement to the United Nations Ninth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in April 2010, the Vatican argued it had abrogated the doctrine as early as 1494.
"The bull Inter Caetera is a historic remnant with no juridical, moral or doctrinal value," the statement said. "The Holy See confirms that Inter Caetera has already been abrogated and considers it without any legal or doctrinal value."