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29 March 2016

Catholic Responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 48 and Questions regarding the “Doctrine of Discovery”

March 29, 2016: Message from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

“In response to Call to Action number 48 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in response to questions raised on the legal concepts known as “Doctrine of Discovery” and terra nullius, four Canadian Catholic organizations representing Bishops, Institutes of consecrated life, Societies of apostolic life, Indigenous People, and laity have issued two documents. Both are dated March 19, 2016, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the principal patron saint of Canada.”

“The four organizations are the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC), the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.”

In the first of the two texts, the Catholic signatories express their support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. They affirm that “its spirit can point a way forward to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.” They also point out that the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations “has explicitly endorsed this Declaration on numerous occasions.” In 2010, when the Government of Canada had announced it would support the UN Declaration, Bishop Pierre Morissette, then President of the CCCB, had signed a joint letter in which religious leaders acknowledged their appreciation for the government’s endorsement and urged the Canadian government “to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples on a respectful process for the full endorsement and implementation” of the UN Declaration.

The Catholic response to Call to Action 48 concludes with an “appeal to all our Catholic brothers and sisters — laity, members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life, deacons, priests, and Bishops” — to make eight commitments in order to “continue to walk together with Indigenous Peoples in building a more just society where their gifts and those of all people are nurtured and honoured.”

Reflecting on the “Doctrine of Discovery” and the notion of terra nullius (no-one’s land), the second of the two Catholic documents “considers and repudiates illegitimate concepts and principles used by Europeans to justify the seizure of land previously held by Indigenous Peoples and often identified by the terms ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and terra nullius.” The signatories say “that now is an appropriate time to issue a public statement in response to the errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called Age of Discovery.” After formulating five principles rejecting how these legal constructs have been used to disenfranchise Indigenous Peoples, the signatories again affirm the eight commitments made in their first document. An appendix provides an historical overview of the development of the two legal concepts vis-a-vis Catholic teaching and of their repudiation.

Those signing the two texts are: the President of the CCCB, the Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., Bishop of Hamilton; the Chairman of the CCCB Commission for Justice and Peace, the Most Reverend Donald Bolen, Bishop of Saskatoon; the Chair of the Aboriginal Council, Deacon Rennie Nahanee; the President and Executive Director of the CRC, Sister Rita Larivée, S.S.A, and Father Timothy Scott, C.S.B.; and the President and Executive Director of Development and Peace, Deacon Jean-Denis Lampron and Mr. David Leduc. The publication of the two documents follows a day of reflection on the renewal of relations with Indigenous Peoples which was held March 14 in Ottawa, bringing together more than 30 people, including Bishops, major religious superiors, and representatives of the four signatory organizations. Both documents were developed by the CCCB Commission for Justice and Peace, and involved numerous consultations with members of Indigenous communities as well as with representatives of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life.


For further information, go to the CCCB website at: www.cccb.ca