Doctrine of Discovery and Its Implications!

by | Jun 8, 2023 | Formation, Reflections

SCNY Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation Update April 2023

As a member of the Vincentian Family Social Justice Advocates group, I am grateful that we have taken the time to delve more deeply into racism, white privilege, the legacy of Native American Boarding Schools in USA and Canada, and at our April meeting, the Doctrine of Discovery. The resources we discussed at April’s meeting were so meaningful to me I wanted to share them with a larger audience. I invite those who are interested in learning more about the Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) to visit links to resources listed below. The one-hour webinar, An Historic Reckoning: Movement Leaders Respond to the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, is a good overview. The panelists offer moving testimony as to how they and their ancestors have been impacted. Action is suggested. This webinar, sponsored by the Nuns and Nones Land  Justice Project, is one of several that women religious have been participating in over many months as we explore our role in healing and reparation.

The theory of the Doctrine of Discovery (DOD) is complex. If you are like me, there is a lot to learn. At the heart of DOD’s history is the power and influence of the Catholic Church in the 15th and 16th Centuries (especially with its three Papal Bulls) that gave license for nations in the “new world” to take control over both people and land. As we become more aware of this history with its implications, we ask ourselves, What do we do?” Three recent statements from the Vatican and the U.S. and the Canadian bishops are an attempt to respond to the DOD.

Thomas Berry, CP, who called himself a geologian, not a theologian, came to mind as I was reflecting on the resources listed here. He is clear that the role of the indigenous peoples is critical to our future. The decisions, choices, and actions we take will determine if we live into the Ecozoic Age or the Technozic Age! In Dream of the Earth, Chapter 15, The Historical Role of the American Indian, Berry writes: “They (the Indians) have this position of honor not merely by their temporal priority, but also by their mystical understanding and communion with the continent…. From having been one of the freest peoples who ever lived, they have become one of the most confined, culturally as well as physically.” He goes on to say that “the Indians on this continent have a significant place in the historical and cultural development of the human community. Survival and development within their own cultural traditions concerns not only the Indians; it concerns the other peoples of this continent, as well as the human community itself.” (p.181). As we raise our awareness of the DOD and our role / responsibility in healing and reparations, let us also take time to reflect on Thomas Berry’s statement… the role of the indigenous peoples is critical to our future.

I offer the resources in this handout as an opportunity for us all to learn, pray and act as we journey together towards greater awareness of the harm that has been done and of our call to healing and reparations. In the spirit of Charity, we ask the question that Vincent de Paul asked, What must be done?


Click on one or two of the links. Read a Statement, article or listen to webinar. Share with a friend, family member or colleague.

  1. Statements on the Doctrine of Discovery Here’s the statement from the Vatican on the Doctrine of Discovery. Here’s the USCCB’s statement. Here’s the CCCB’s statement.
  2. The Long History of Forcing Jews to Wear Anti-Semitic Badges | History| Smithsonian Magazine
  3. Vatican disowns, but does not rescind, ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ | Crux

  1. Will disowning ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ reopen a theological can of worms? | Crux
  2. Inside the effort to identify Catholic-run boarding schools for Indigenous children | Global Sisters Report
  3. Early on the first day of the week – Ken Thorson, OMI Provincial, Canada
  4. Webinar – An Historic Reckoning: Movement Leaders Respond to the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery


A Land Acknowledgement Prayer similar to the one below or write your own! Paraphrasing the words of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, we acknowledge that it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities for whom land is not a commodity, but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there. We recall (name tribe whose land you live on now) who were the first human inhabitants of this land. We recall with sorrow the violence they suffered by being displaced from their land by European colonization. We pray that we might learn from them that land is not a commodity, but a sacred space with which we need to interact. We remember that we share life as well with the air, water, plants, and other creatures on this sacred land. (Sisters of Charity of New York at Mount Saint Vincent, Bronx, NY, live on land of the Lenni Lenape).


  1. Share with a family member or friend what you learned about the Doctrine of Discovery; ask what they think. If you watched the webinar or read an article, share what most surprised, challenged or called you.
  2. Find the name of the original peoples who lived on the land you are now on. Share with another person their name, something about them; and a gift they are offering us?

How might a Congregation or group you belong to begin to look at the land it is on? How might the original peoples’ relationship to the land influence and impact us? How might our attitude, decisions and actions change (or not)?

C. De Angelo, SCNY PJIC Office